Former employees file suit against North Whidbey Park and Recreation District

Two former pool employees filed lawsuits recently against North Whidbey Parks and Recreation District and the executive director.

Bellingham attorney Robert Butler filed the two wrongful-firing lawsuits in Island County Superior Court on behalf of former swim coach Neil Romney and administrative assistant Victoria Robinson.

Bill Walker, executive director for the district, fired the two last fall, causing an uproar in the swimming community. Many fans of the longtime coach of North Whidbey Aquatic Club protested Romney’s termination.

Walker said he could not comment on litigation.

Romney and Robinson submitted claims for damages with the district last fall, which is the first step in a lawsuit. The district had 60 days to respond before a lawsuit could be filed.

Romney is asking for unspecified damages for alleged breach of contract, retaliation and wrongful discharge in violation of public policy for reporting employer misconduct, negligent retention and supervision and defamation.

Romney’s lawsuit states that, under his employment contract, he could only be fired for cause and that Walker had no valid reason for making the decision.

The lawsuit claims the termination “was motivated by retaliation for inquiring and complaining about Walker’s operations and unethical business practices.”

Romney claims that he brought up a number of “serious health and safety concerns” with Walker regarding the pool and then went to the board of directors after the problems were not corrected.

“Walker became increasingly hostile,” the lawsuit states.

In addition, Romney claims Walker made false statement inferring that Romney had mishandled district money.

Walker, however, wrote in an email that the issues with the swim team’s finances had nothing to do with his decision to fire the two employees.

He said he reported to the county auditor last year that a checking account for the swim team was improperly “operated” outside of the management of the director and outside state law regarding oversight by the county treasurer.

The issue was forwarded to the state auditor’s office. Walker said he expects a report in the next few months.

Robinson is asking for an undisclosed amount of damages for racial discrimination, retaliation and wrongful discharge, negligent supervision and a wage claim.

Robinson, who is African American, claims that Walker treated her poorly and “made comments about persons at the pool who were not white,” the lawsuit states.

She also claims Walker told her to perform “unlawful acts” and fired her when she refused, according to the lawsuit. She previously claimed  Walker inappropriately asked her to give him her password to the swim team’s records.

In addition, Robinson claims that she was required to work more than 40 hours, but didn’t receive overtime pay for some of the hours.


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