Former Clallam County employee Tina Hendrickson’s sexual harassment lawsuit against county Prosecuting Attorney Mark Nichols was settled last week in an agreement under which Hendrickson will be paid $350,000.
Hendrickson signed the pact Dec. 3, and Nichols signed it Dec. 4, according to documents obtained by Peninsula Daily News.
Interim county Administrator Rich Sill said last week the county, which had yet to receive the agreement, is in a statewide insurance risk pool that will pay Hendrickson the $350,000.
Hendrickson expects to receive $160,000 to $170,000 after legal fees, she said on Dec. 12.
“I just need to move on,” she said. “I’m tired, and I’m beat up.”
Without the settlement, “we would have been stuck in appellate court for years,” Hendrickson added.
Nichols’ risk pool lawyer also has cost $171,183 so far, of which the county will pay $100,000 under the policy’s deductible terms, Sill said.
The risk pool is liable for the remaining $71,183 and any additional legal fees that are incurred, Sill said.
The case has cost $521,183 so far.
Hendrickson, Nichols’ former office manager, family friend and admitted romantic interest, claimed in her June 1, 2017, Western Federal District Court complaint that Nichols repeatedly touched her buttocks in the prosecuting attorney’s office without her consent under the guise of removing threads from her clothing.
She said he hugged her against her will and did not heed her entreaties to stop his romantic advances, creating a hostile workplace.
She said she was sexually harassed between April 2015 and April 2017, and was denied a raise in January 2017 before filing her complaint five months later.
Nichols, re-elected to office in a Nov. 6 election certified Nov. 27, has denied the allegations and said he was prepared to go to court to defend himself.
A judge moved Nichols’ trial from mid-October, before the election, to after the election so he had time to run for office and because of his lawyer’s scheduling conflicts, according to court filings.
Nichols’ subsequent motion for summary judgment was denied, and he was barred from seeing Hendrickson’s medical records.
Settlement talks ordered Nov. 21 by U.S. Magistrate Judge David Christel began Nov. 30 between Hendrickson’s employment-law attorney, Terry Venneberg of Gig Harbor, and the risk pool’s lawyer, Suzanne Kelly Michael of Seattle.
A trial scheduled to begin last week was stricken Dec. 4 from the federal District Court calendar after a settlement was reached, according to a court spokesman, but the text of the agreement was not filed with the court as of Dec. 12.
Settlement documents must be filed with the court by Dec. 24.
“I do not know if any of those documents will be publicly available other than the court order of dismissal,” court spokesman Bill McCool said in an email.
The risk pool lawyer decides if and when to settle on the county’s behalf, Sill said.
“We lose any control,” he said.
Linda Kelly of The Connections Group, a Seattle-based political and public policy communications company, emailed Peninsula Daily News with a half-page statement “regarding settlement” that Kelly said was intended for “immediate release.”
Kelly said Dec. 12 she received the statement from Nichols and sent it to different media at his direction.
Linda Bishop, also of the risk pool, and Michael did not return calls for comment on the case.
Nichols would not be interviewed last week.
“I’ll stand by the remarks contained within (the) press release on the Hendrickson matter,” he said in an email.
Nichols’ statement did not include mention of the $350,000 settlement or a text of the pact.
“Notably, the plaintiff agreed that the settlement is no admission of any fault by Mr. Nichols, consistent with the findings of the independent investigator,” according to Nichols’ statement.
Venneberg took issue last week with its wording. He said the independent investigator was hired by the county and that the investigator claimed attorney-client privilege for any communication with the county, restricting its release.
“It’s not a statement Ms. Hendrickson is making,” Venneberg said.
The pact states the following:
“This agreement shall not constitute, in any manner, an admission by Nichols that he has violated any law or failed to fulfill any duty to Hendrickson or anyone else.
Wording in settlement agreements that say guilt is not admitted by a party to a lawsuit is “common language,” Venneberg said.
“We think the size of the settlement speaks for itself, that it indicates the degree [Nichols] engaged in misconduct and the harm caused by the misconduct.”
Settlement talks were prompted by an offer from Nichols’ attorney to settle the case, Venneberg said.
“After they initiated settlement discussions, we agreed to ask the judge to assign a magistrate, which he did.”
Venneberg said the agreement does not include restoration of a county government job for Hendrickson, 49, who moved to Port Angeles when she was 16.
“We would have done well at trial and asked for a significant amount more,” Hendrickson said.
She said she waited more than two years to file her complaint, and several months after she was denied a raise that she attributed to her rejection of Nichols’ overtures, because of a “good old boys network” at the courthouse.
She also alleged that Nichols would sexually harass her and stop, making her believe he had changed his ways, then harass her and stop again.
“A therapist helped convince me that until I stand up and actually do this, nothing is going to change, that I’m not going to be able to fix it,” Hendrickson said.