TACOMA -- A lawsuit in federal court against Puget Sound Naval Shipyard by a female engineer alleging she had been harassed and discriminated against has been settled, with the Navy agreeing to pay $144,000, apologize to the woman and institute enhanced training for shipyard managers.
The Navy admitted no wrongdoing as part of the agreement in the suit filed in July 2015 by Vena Ward, but her attorney said she had been transferred to a different department and was satisfied by the apology and the hope that nobody else would be subjected to what she endured.
Ward, who is black and visually impaired, alleged she had been denied advancement and was harassed and discriminated against because of her gender, race and disability.
"No settlement is ever perfect, but it's terms I think both parties can live with," said Ward's attorney, Jacob Downs. "I think the most important thing for her is the acknowledgment of what happened to her by the Navy and some sort of commitment expressed by the Navy to not let it happen again to anyone else."
The settlement included a personal apology from shipyard commander Capt. Howard Markle, Downs said.
A spokesman for the shipyard declined to comment on the settlement.
Ward was hired at the shipyard in 2008 after working three summers there as a nuclear engineering student trainee before finishing her degree in chemical engineering. She uses a reading device and zoom software to do her work.
She claimed she had been denied advancement while peers were promoted around her and had been subjected to degrading conversations and emails.
"When she spoke up about it, or voiced that it was inappropriate, people looked at her as getting upset," Downs said. "I think in a certain sense they thought she is 'playing the race card,' and then retaliated against her."
Ward completed the informal complaint process with an equal employment opportunity counselor and filed a formal complaint in January. After 180 days without results, she became eligible to file the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tacoma.
Downs said the apology acknowledged the Navy had fallen short in certain areas.
"In my eyes it was as close to an admission of fault one could get without legally admitting it," Downs said.
The $144,000 figure includes attorneys fees, money for Ward's pain and suffering along with compensation she would have received if her promotion had not been delayed, Downs said.
He said the promotion took two years to complete, where for others the process took a couple of months.
The new training for managers will include topics beyond sexual harassment and will include "the concept that managers have an independent duty to address (equal employment opportunity) issues/conduct," according to the stipulation for compromise settlement provided by the U.S. Attorney's Office.