A parks supervisor in Spokane who was demoted for harassing a gay employee got his job back, with a $100,000 settlement with the city, which he accused of anti-Christian discrimination.
In October 2018, Spokane Parks and Recreation Department supervisor Adriano Eva started making homophobic comments to a seasonal employee, Conor Wigert. When Wigert complained to human resources, Eva was investigated and then demoted in December, then eventually laid off.
In April, he won his appeal to the Civil Service Commission and was reinstated. He has been on paid leave since, but he was seeking compensation for lost wages, harm for his future job prospects, and emotional trauma from the ordeal. In the settlement with the city of Spokane, he gets $100,000 but has to give up his claim without the city admitting wrongdoing.
According to Wigert’s complaint, Eva told employees at Spokane Parks and Recreation that loyalty and friendship were an important part of the job. Eva would often have to drive with an employee to visit a park, and he called those drives a “circle of trust” that were important to team-building.
But it was on those drives that Wigert said Eva asked invasive questions about his sexuality. When Eva found out that the employee was gay, he reportedly said that “he has love in his heart for all people, but that he believes what the Bible says” about gay people.
Wigert said that Eva once brought up a gay couple he claimed he knew when he was growing up who would cut boys’ hair and then have sex with them.
“I quickly explained to him that pedophilia and homosexuality are completely different, but it left me feeling completely demoralized for my boss to be making that comparison, even if he wasn’t meaning for it to be one,” Wigert wrote in his complaint.
He also said that Eva would ask him bizarre questions on those drives, like “how it worked to be attracted to another man.”
Wigert said that the harassment didn’t just happen in the car. Eva referred to him as his “gay assistant” and made fun of him for being gay in front of others.
“I want to think that it was just him trying to show how ok with it he is, but it serves as an othering position – you are different, and I’m ok with it, but you are different,” Wigert wrote.
The city of Spokane investigated the complaint and found that Eva had violated its policies on general harassment and sexual harassment and that he should not be in a supervisory role. He was demoted, but the position he was demoted to had no openings so he was laid off.
Eva got a lawyer and appealed to the Civil Service Commission. His lawyer, Marshall Casey, argued that Eva was “honest and sincere” in trying to get to know Wigert. He claimed that Eva had no way of knowing that he was making Wigert uncomfortable and that he was just discussing his religious beliefs.
Eva also claimed that since the city referenced his comments about the Bible, that he was the victim of discrimination against Christians.
“I came up against a bias from the very beginning,” Eva told the Commission, calling the investigation “biased” because he couldn’t bring in the witnesses he wanted to.
Wigert said the decision was “invalidating” and that he had been “silenced.”
“I’m not concerned that they won’t take all the steps to make sure it doesn’t happen moving forward, it’s just disheartening for the precedent it sets in general,” Wigert, who doesn’t work at the department anymore, said. “Having gone through it now, I understand why it’s so hard to say anything in the first place.”
Carissa Ware, a supervisor and a lesbian, said that she felt guilty because she knew about Eva’s behavior but never complained.
“I felt that if I would have stepped up, Conor wouldn’t have experienced the things he did,” Ware told the Inlander.
The city appealed the Commission’s decision, saying that it was surprising that the Commission didn’t believe that Eva’s behavior was inappropriate and that there is “no legitimate business reason” for a supervisor to discuss an employee’s sexuality.
But the settlement, if approved by the Spokane City Council, will end the appeal.
The city said that it is working with Eva to help him learn “about what’s appropriate as a supervisor,” spokesperson Marlene Feist said.
In 2014, Eva was the subject of a sexual harassment investigation after he made inappropriate comments about a 19-year-old assistant and allegedly kissed and groped her. The resulting report was never officially submitted and Eva faced no disciplinary action.