A former press secretary for Seattle Mayor Ed Murray says she was subject to discrimination and has filed a claim with the city demanding no less than $1 million in damages.
Rosalind Brazel, 42, was Murray’s first press secretary after the mayor took office in January but was replaced in March after being involved in a couple of public snafus, including a news release mourning the death of a local figure who hadn’t died.
She was initially reassigned to another city department but says she was let go in May.
Brazel says in her claim for damages that she was the only African-American “professional level official” working for Murray at the time.
She says four other employees were similarly reassigned out of the mayor’s office but were not terminated.
“Ms. Brazel was replaced by a white male who is paid $5,000 per year more than she was paid, despite frequent mentions by Mayor Murray to the public that the Race and Social Justice Initiative, which affords equal pay among race and gender, is fully recognized by his office,” the claim says.
The claim, filed on Sept. 26, seeks money for economic damages and emotional distress. Brazel made $95,000 as the mayor’s press secretary.
Murray denied the allegations Tuesday.
“Discrimination of any stripe runs counter to my personal and public values, and neither race nor gender played a role in my decision to seek different skills and experience at the press secretary position during the first one-hundred days of my administration,” the mayor said in a lengthy statement responding to Brazel’s claim.
“Upon being elected mayor, it was an early priority of mine to bring more people of diverse backgrounds into the administration of the City, both as City department leaders and as staff in the Mayor’s Office,” Murray added.
Phone calls to Brazel and her lawyer weren’t immediately returned Tuesday. Brazel must wait 60 days after filing her claim before she can bring a lawsuit against the city.
Murray hired Brazel away from The Feary Group, a Seattle public relations firm where she was a project account coordinator. The Washington State University graduate had previously worked as a writer and producer at KIRO TV in Seattle and as a news anchor and reporter at KTAL TV in Shreveport, LA.
Brazel had been working for the mayor for less than a month when she received attention for a misstep.
The state Senate had voted to approve legislation allowing financial aid for students brought illegally into the United States as children and Murray wanted to send out a news release praising the move.
Brazel drafted two versions of the release for internal consumption but then mistakenly sent the drafts to reporters. Included with the drafts was a note to her boss, communications director Jeff Reading.
Jeff–two statements below,” the note said. “One more straight forward, one with a ‘tisk tisk‘ feel.”
The “tisk tisk” version noted that Murray had pushed for the legislation “many years ago as a state Senator” and was glad to see it “finally come to fruition.” The “straight forward” version said the mayor was proud and pleased.
In late February, Brazel issued a statement by Murray about the death of Jim Diers, a former Seattle Department of Neighborhoods director. She later sent a correction acknowledging that Diers was “alive and well.” Diers had been confused with Joe Dear, a former state investment board director who had passed away.
Murray had just days earlier come under fire for flip-flopping on a police issue. The mayor initially supported, then reversed Interim Seattle Police Chief Harry Bailey’s decision to cancel a misconduct finding against an officer who threatened to harass a journalist.
In her claim for damages, Brazel blames Murray and Reading for the Diers gaffe. She says Reading told her Diers had died, instructed her to prepare a statement and approved what she wrote. She says she received a text message from Murray indicating how to spell Diers‘ name.
Brazel’s claim includes anecdotes about her interactions with Murray and her time at City Hall. It says she was assigned to ride with the mayor in his car to media interviews and events and was “instructed that she was not to speak to him while in the car with him.”
“During her tenure with the mayor’s office, Mayor Murray was cool and aloof when relating to Ms. Brazel — often snapping at her about media events she had scheduled for him,” the claim says. “However, at times when he spoke to other managerial staff he was affable and friendly.”
The claim also says Brazel was instructed to tell a reporter that Murray was using campaign funds to pay for a trip to New York for the Super Bowl.
The mayor’s office later explained that Murray had used a city credit card and would be paying the city back, according to the claim.
The claim says Reading told Brazel on March 6 “it wasn’t working out” and she should have “known better” with regard to Diers.
He told Brazel she was being reassigned to the Department of Personnel, described the new gig as an opportunity for her to prove herself and said, “Let’s fix this,” according to the claim.
The claim says Brazel was reassigned on March 21 and that she was let go on May 23.
“No further offers were made to her despite the fact that Ms. Brazel had completed her assignment in the City’s Personnel Department and was told she had done her job well and that her effort would be used as a basis for the upcoming budget,” it says.
In his statement Tuesday, Murray praised Brazel but said she wasn’t right for the press secretary job.
“The first days of my administration were chaotic and pressure-filled,” the mayor said. “In many ways, all of us were learning by doing, and there is no doubt that we all made mistakes – myself included.”
“While I take very seriously the charge of discrimination made by Ms. Brazel, I stand by my decision to make a change at the press secretary position during those early days as one of many changes necessary to bring greater structure and stability to the daily operations inside the Mayor’s Office.”