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May 2007 Newsletter         Subscribe to this newsletter

May 2007

In this issue:

Recent Changes Relating to the ADA

Gambini Ruling Clarifies Rights of People with Disabilities

We've got Your Back: SOCR reaches out to Young People

Staff Profiles

Germaine Covington Retires

Picture of Germaine W. Covington, Director


Discover Seattle: Newcomers Fair
June 9, 10am - 5pm
Fisher Pavilion at Seattle Center

2007 Mayor’s Small Business Awards Accepting Nominations

Director of the Seattle Office for Civil Rights is a 'passionate advocate'

Seattle Office for Civil Rights Director Germaine Covington will retire in June after 29 years of service to the City of Seattle. The Mayor has named Julie Nelson Acting Director.

"Germaine has left her mark on almost every aspect of city government," Nickels said. "Her commitment to civil rights and social justice, both professionally and personally, is extraordinary. She is a talented woman, whose skills, passions and achievements have shaped our community in countless ways."

A retirement party to celebrate Germaine will be held Wednesday, June 6th from 3 p.m. to  5p.m. in the Bertha Knight Landes Room in City Hall (600 Fourth Avenue).

Covington became the director of the new Seattle Office for Civil Rights (SOCR) in 1994. Under her leadership, SOCR became a regional leader for civil rights, pioneering innovative programs and outreach strategies that earned the department recognition from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the National League of Cities. She broadened the department’s activities to include public education on predatory home mortgage loans and fair housing training for real estate professionals. She also initiated the City of Seattle’s annual Human Rights Day celebration and awards, to commemorate the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

"I have worked hard to fight injustice in all my jobs, but to actually be charged with enforcing anti-discrimination laws and educating the community about equity and fairness has been a dream job," Covington said. "I am proud to have worked closely with so many extraordinary, passionate and committed city staff, and to have helped form partnerships with community leaders across Seattle."

The Mayor has named Julie Nelson Acting Director. Julie joined SOCR as the Director of Policy and Outreach in June of 2005. Before working at SOCR, she was the Director of Planning and Evaluation for the Human Services Department. She has also worked for Seattle’s utilities and for Pima County Community Services in Tucson, Ariz. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Arizona and her master’s degree in economics from the University of Washington. Julie looks forward to serving in this capacity; she can be reached at 233-7822.

Recent Changes Relating to the ADA

By Greg Bell J.D., SOCR Policy and Outreach

There have been some major developments in the ADA arena, and I would like to share them with you. On May 4, 2007, Gov. Christine Gregoire signed legislation providing a new definition of "disability" under Washington state law.

On July 6, 2006, in the case of McClarty v. Totem Electric, the Washington Supreme Court was asked to choose between different definitions of "disability" that had been developed over the years by courts and the Washington Human Rights Commission. Rather than picking one of those definitions, however, the court instead adopted the definition provided by the federal Americans with Disabilities Act in order "[t]o provide a single definition of ‘disability’ that can be applied consistently throughout" the Washington Law against Discrimination" (RCW 49.60). The court made its ruling without the benefit of legal briefs, comments or any other documentation that might have informed the court of the detrimental impact its decision would have on thousands of state residents. The state’s definition of disability had been in place for over thirty years, with no great groundswell of opposition approaching the legislature to request a change. The legislature considered the issue in the 1990s and saw no reason to change the definition. When the state Supreme Court opted for the more restrictive federal definition, thousands of Washington residents lost state ADA coverage.

This year, the state Legislature explicitly rejected the Supreme Court’s choice in McClarty, and instead adopted its own detailed definition of disability. The result is a definition that is much broader than the federal ADA definition, and that more closely represents the will of the state. Forty-six out of forty-eight State Senators voted in favor of the new definition; sixty-two of the ninety-seven House members voted in favor as well.

At the signing ceremony, State Sen. Adam Kline stated, " Washington has prided itself on having a broad definition of disability, one based on compassion. Discrimination marginalizes so many people, and the personal toll it takes on our people is unworthy of our state." The governor added her comments as she signed the bill before a roomful of disability advocates.


Gambini Ruling Clarifies Rights of People with Disabilities


The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled in Gambini v. Total Renal Care, Inc., Case No. 05-35209 (9th Cir., March 8, 2007), that if an employee has an outburst and that the outburst is associated with a known disability, then the outburst must be treated as part of the disability. In Gambini, an employee with a history of bi-polar issues had an outburst at work when she was presented with materials about her job performance. She was later fired for this outburst. Her employees knew of her disabilities and tried to accommodate them, but the outbursts were impacting other employees and the management decided to terminate her employment. She sued her employers and at the first trial the court refused to allow her to enter a jury instruction stating that her outbursts were caused by her disability and thus should be covered by the ADA. She lost at the initial trial, but upon appeal, the 9th Circuit held that the jury instruction should have been provided to the jury and that by disallowing it the lower court had made an error. Subsequently the court overturned the previous verdict and ordered a new trial.


We've got Your Back: SOCR reaches out to Young People


By, Anita DeMahy, SOCR Policy and Outreach

When asked if she has ever experienced illegal discrimination, high school senior Mariella replied, "Well, I don’t know. I guess I don’t really know what that is."

Mariella is not alone. Many young adults are unaware of their rights as residents, students, and employees in Seattle. As young people prepare to enter the adult workforce and rent their own apartments, the Seattle Office for Civil Rights wants to ensure that they know about illegal discrimination – what it is and how they can protect themselves from it.

The 2005 King County Communities Count Report found that in 2004 almost 60% of adults between the ages of 18 and 24 had experienced what they considered to be discrimination, a great majority of these incidents happening at work. In Seattle, however, very few young adults actually have filed claims with the Seattle Office for Civil Rights.

At SOCR, we are working hard to reach young adults. Young adults have heard advertisements on radio stations KUBE 93 and KRIZ FM, and soon will be able to view web ads on SeaSpot Media’s website. Additionally, new cards proclaiming, "Speak Out against Discrimination: We’ve Got Your Back" are being distributed to a variety of youth venues.

SOCR staff also have begun to conduct free informational presentations about illegal discrimination with high school and community college students and teachers, renters and landlords, employers and young employees.

If you would like to have a staff member from SOCR present to your school, organization, or business, or if you have outreach ideas of your own about promoting equal rights and social justice for all Seattle residents, please call (206) 684-0154 or email Anita.deMahy@Seattle.Gov.

Staff Profiles


Julie Nelson

What are your job responsibilities at SOCR?

I have been the Director of SOCR’s Policy and Outreach team since 2005. When Germaine Covington announced her retirement last month, Mayor Nickels appointed me to the position of Acting Director. So now I will be responsible for overall management of SOCR. I’ve worked for the City of Seattle for a total of about 18 years and have really appreciated the breadth of opportunities. I’ve worked in six city departments; including environmental programs at the utilities to human services to race and social justice. Local government is responsible for so much good work and I’m proud to play a role.

What inspires you about this work – and why?

I have a vision of a socially just world, and I think that the Seattle Office for Civil Rights can play a role in achieving that. In SOCR we make a difference – whether in the life of a single individual or a large group of people and we help demonstrate that social justice is within our grasp.

Any other interests?

In another life, I would have been a struggling artist. I like to create collages, combining magazine snippets with strange found objects, bits of material, and old photographs. I also like to garden; my garden reflects my life – some people might look at it and wonder why it is so unruly and out of control. Finally, I am a mother of two teenage boys, so even if I did absolutely nothing else, my life would still be totally fascinating.


Monica Beach

What is your role/title at SOCR?

Civil Rights Analyst.

What do you like most about working for SOCR?

I love the people I work with! My colleagues are great to deal with on a daily basis both professionally and personally. Also, the parties that I deal with in my casework are all unique individuals with life experiences that add to my perspective of the world.

Who has/does inspires you and why?

Two people bring me inspiration on a daily basis. My mother is my hero because she is so giving of herself and I can only hope to be half the woman she is. My other source of inspiration is my son because I envy the way he experiences the world. I often look at him and realize how much I take for granted. I find myself wondering how a cardboard box could be so fascinating.


Seattle Office for Civil Rights
Germaine Covington, Director

For newsletter questions contact Brenda Anibarro, (206) 684-4514 Brenda.Anibarro@Seattle.Gov