Multnomah County in Oregon agreed Thursday to pay $100,000 to an employee who claimed in a lawsuit that she was harassed by coworkers after she complained about a Blue Lives Matter flag hung by a fellow employee.
Karimah Guion-Pledgure, who is black, filed a lawsuit in January that accused the county of fostering a racially insensitive environment, The Oregonian reported. The lawsuit alleged that the Blue Lives Matter flag "demeans" and "denigrates" the Black Lives Matter movement. The complainant had worked as a corrections technician with the Department of Community Justice since 2011, according to The Oregonian.
Guion-Pledgure and other black coworkers allegedly complained to supervisors after a probation officer had hung the flag above their desk in September 2017. The lawsuit claimed that the woman's supervisors refused to force her fellow employee to take it down.
On Thursday, the Multnomah County commissioners approved the settlement on the condition that Guion-Pledgure drops the lawsuit against the county and that she resigns from her position, according to her attorneys. Her resignation took effect Friday. However, she is eligible to apply for future positions at the county.
What's the story?
Guion-Pledgure claimed that six months after she initially complained, the Blue Lives Matter flag was still up, according to the Portland Mercury.
At that point, she created an "equity wall" featuring photos of minorities who were killed by law enforcement officers.
When asked by management to remove the photo collage, she refused, citing that the Blue Lives Matter flag was still in place.
"The Black Lives Matter movement was started to call attention to the disproportionate policing and killing of Black people by law enforcement," the lawsuit purported, according to the Mercury. "The 'Blue Lives Matter' sign co-opts that racial justice movement's slogan, repurposes it to shift focus to law enforcement — a chosen profession, not a racial identity — and thus denigrates, dilutes, and demeans the purpose of the Black Lives Matter movement."
About a week later, management imposed a new rule that personal photos could be no larger than 5-by-7 inches.
On the same day, Guion-Pledgure claimed that she found two post-it notes on her display wall, one said, "Thanks a lot," and the other read, "Bitch," according to the lawsuit.
"By that time, several other coworkers began hanging additional 'Blue Lives Matter' flags around the office," the lawsuit stated.
After the new rule, many resized their flags and kept them on display.
The county "continued to expose Guion-Pledgure to a racially offensive and combative work environment," the lawsuit claimed.
Guion-Pledgure missed a lot of work because of the stress she endured, according to her attorney Ashlee Albies.
"She's disappointed that she has to leave there and that they couldn't make it a safe and welcoming work environment," Albies told the Oregonian.
What did the county say?
County spokeswoman Jessica Morkert-Shibley told the Oregonian that Blue Lives Matter flags, photos, or other displays, such as the collage featuring black people killed by law enforcement, would no longer be permitted under the Department of Community Justice's new policy.
"We are currently working on a countywide policy addressing this issue," Morkert-Shibley said.
Personal family photos are still permitted, at this point, she added.
The lawsuit originally sought $420,000.
The settlement agreement is a sign that the "DCJ needs to get itself in order," Albies told the Mercury.
"Both [Guion-Pledgure] and I hope this is the beginning of ... addressing these issues that have been plaguing the county for years now," she added.