Boyle, who worked from 1990 to 1997 as an assistant city attorney (before Sidran fired her), was within two weeks of taking her lawsuit before a jury. Boyle was suing the city, Sidran, and Sidran's assistant Edwin Inkley for retaliating against her unionizing efforts and unfairly firing her. Things were going in her favor. U.S. District Judge Marsha Pechman denied the city's request to dismiss the case last week, citing "genuine issues of material fact" related to Boyle's charges. Although Pechman threw out punitive damages that might be leveled against Sidran, it looked as if a jury might have awarded Boyle quite well.
But by early this week, Boyle and the city were hastily submerged in settlement talks. The discussions lasted five hours, and by the end of them, Boyle had decided not to go through the ordeal of a lengthy trial. "You just never know what you're going to get with a jury," she said. "There's always a chance that things won't come across in a favorable fashion." The six-figure sum the city is paying Boyle isn't a formal admission of guilt, but it does connote that the city's legal representatives saw a losing verdict in their near future. They did not return our call.
Boyle's problems with Sidran began in the mid-'90s, when she became heavily involved in unionizing her office. Boyle started the union drive with other female attorneys out of concerns of sexual discrimination in the office. Apparently, the work of female attorneys was being reviewed by male attorneys in the office, but the men weren't getting the same supervision from the women. Boyle remembers getting particularly angry when Assistant City Attorney Anne Jackson, who was pregnant at the time, was badgered for using flex time to go to the doctor.
Boyle claims she started receiving negative performance reviews when her involvement with the Seattle Prosecuting Attorney's Association began in 1995. Court records show that unionization was a sore topic for Sidran. In 1995, the city attorney made his sentiments about collective bargaining known during one meeting with his attorneys. Sidran reportedly told his staff, "I will just say this: 'Life is too short to work in an office where you're not happy.'" The meeting ended in a heated argument between Boyle and Sidran.
Boyle was fired in late 1997, just a couple months after almost every news publication in town came out with stories about Sidran's troubles with the union. Boyle claims the negative media coverage infuriated Sidran. Sidran did not return phone calls for a comment.
Even with the out-of-court settlement, Sidran's troubles may not be over. There are still three pending claims of unfair labor practices that have yet to be heard by the Public Employment Relations Commission (PERC), including Boyle's. The claims were originally declared moot by the state supreme court on the grounds that assistant city attorneys as a group could not form collective bargaining units. However, thanks to recent legislation passed in Olympia that overrides that ruling, these PERC complaints may have gained new steam.
In addition to Boyle, one assistant city attorney told PERC that once he got active with the union, Sidran took away his choice office. Another employee complained that Sidran punished his union activity by refusing to write a good job recommendation for him.