‘Not a place of honor’ — More harassment allegations at Bremerton shipyard

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SEATTLE -- This past week, the U.S. Navy made a six-figure settlement to a former Puget Sound Naval Shipyard manager who alleged he was retaliated against for reporting a sexual harassment claim, according to his attorney.

The settlement comes less than a month after another former employee exposed disturbing allegations of sexual assault and harassment at the shipyard to Q13 News.

Former shipyard manager Mark Swalley said the problem goes all the way up the chain, claiming his own supervisors retaliated against him for investigating a sexual harassment claim reported to him involving one of the employees he oversaw.

Swalley said in April 2016, another supervisor told him that a female employee made a sexual harassment claim about his employee involving unwanted advances and disparaging comments about the woman.

Swalley immediately reported the incident to his direct supervisor but according to the lawsuit, that supervisor never reported the allegation to the commanding officer, violating policy.

About a week later, Swalley said his supervisor threatened his job and stated, "I do not know how to say this more clearly; you are not to take any discipline action against [him]."

"My job was threatened and my ability to take any disciplinary action was removed from my own employee to cover up the fact that this person had committed sexual harassment," Swalley told Q13 News.

Swalley said the alleged cover-up was likely due in part because the employee was the son of a senior manager.

"There's a lot of nepotism, favoritism and if you don't fall in line, there's retaliation," said Swalley's attorney, Jacob Downs.

Downs claimed that not only did shipyard management retaliate against his client, when Swalley filed a complaint seeking protection from retaliation, it was not properly investigated.

"They were just looking to sweep this under the rug and try to get rid of Mark because he was just a problem, because he was speaking out and doing the right thing and that was rocking the boat and nobody wants that there," Downs said.

"I felt alone, that no one was going to help me," Swalley said.

Swalley shared that he began experiencing debilitating headaches over the ordeal and sought medical attention. The lawsuit against the Secretary of the Navy claimed a treating physician stated he became disabled due to workplace stress-induced cluster headaches.

Swalley said he feared he would lose his job and retirement benefits, that he would be framed for something to get pushed out. He was eventually put on leave and retired early.

Downs said the Navy paid out $130,000 to settle Swalley's retaliation claim after initially denying every allegation.

"Obviously, when they settle, they're not admitting fault, but when you're making six-figure payments to people, I'd say that in itself is an admission of fault," Downs said.

In a statement sent to Q13 News, shipyard spokesman Matthew Bailey said:

"As with any litigation, there were a number of factors that led to settling informally outside of court. Mark Swalley was a valued employee and we want all of our employees to report allegations of harassment."

For Swalley, the experience tarnished his 33-year career at the shipyard.

"You'd like to look back and go, 'I gave my life to this place and think well that was a great place,' but I can't do that," Swalley said. "It's not a place of honor."

He said he felt that it was his duty to tell people about his experience in the same way that it was his duty to bring up the original sexual harassment claim and fight for accountability.

"I tell all my friends and coworkers that are still at the shipyard, 'Just hang in there and maybe change is on the way,'" Swalley said.

"They're on notice and they have been on notice, but now more than ever, and they need to do something about it," Downs added.

Downs is working on another case against the shipyard involving alleged racial discrimination, harassment and retaliation. That case is scheduled to go to trial in February.

Bailey said since the public allegations of the toxic workplace culture surfaced last month, the commander has worked to improve the environment to ensure it is safe and respectful. He said they're working to establish an anonymous reporting hotline and improve the investigation process.

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