Mayor Ed Murray's former press secretary has filed a claim for damages against the city for no less than $1 million, alleging that she faced discrimination during her time at the job.
Rosalind Brazel held the press secretary post for a little less than three months between early January and late March. Her claim for damages was filed on Sept. 25. In it Brazel alleges that she was instructed not to speak to the mayor while riding in his car to press engagements, that Murray snapped at her about events she had scheduled and that he showed less friendliness toward her than other staffers. The claim also says that Brazel was the only "professional level" African American employee working at the Mayor's Office.
In early March, Brazel's immediate supervisor, communications director Jeff Reading, informed her that she was going to be reassigned to the city's personnel department. That decision followed a number of high-profile missteps, including one where she sent out an email on the mayor's behalf mourning the death of a former city official who was not dead.
The claim states that Brazel was moved to a lower-paying position in the personnel department and that her replacement as Mayor's Office press secretary, a white male, was paid $5,000 more than her annual salary to do that same job. Jason Kelly, who has held the position since late August, earns $100,000, according to a mayor's office press release from earlier this year.
May 23 was Brazel's last day working for the Personnel Department and, according to the claim, she received no further offers for employment within city government. The claim says that four other employees, who were not African American, were reassigned out of the mayor's for poor performance or wrongdoing but did not lose their jobs.
Reached by email on Tuesday, Brazel said she had been advised by her attorney not to discuss the claim.
Murray responded to the allegations in an emailed statement.
“Discrimination of any stripe runs counter to my personal and public values, and neither race nor gender played a role in my decision to seek different skills and experience at the press secretary position during the first one-hundred days of my administration," he said.
Brazel's brief tenure as Murray's press secretary was rocky at times. In late February, Murray's office issued a statement mourning the loss of former Seattle Department of Neighborhoods Director Jim Diers — who was in fact still alive. And in January, Brazel forwarded reporters a pair of draft statements about the state Senate’s passage of the DREAM Act. The email was meant for communications director Jeff Reading and included a note saying, “two statements below. One more straight forward, one with a ‘tisk tisk’ feel.”
The claim contends that Reading told Brazel to prepare the Diers press release and later signed off on it. The mayor's statement came after the death of a similarly named former state government official, Joe Dear, who had been chief of staff for Gov. Gary Locke.
Despite the gaffes, the complaint says that "At no time did anyone in the City of Seattle complain about the quality of Ms. Brazel's work as the Mayor's Press Secretary."
Murray, in his statement, acknowledged that there were some rough and often high-pressure times during his early days as mayor. "In many ways, all of us were learning by doing, and there is no doubt that we all made mistakes — myself included," Murray said.
Brazel's complaint mentions an especially turbulent episode that involved reversed police officer misconduct cases. Former interim police chief Harry C. Bailey overturned the misconduct findings for seven officers, including one who threatened to harass a journalist. Murray initially backed the chief's decision in the case involving the journalist. But the mayor later changed course and directed Bailey to let the original finding stand.
A former broadcast news journalist, Brazel is now the communications director at the Washington Community Action Network, a nonprofit focused on racial, social and economic justice.
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