Seattle City Hall entrance

(The Center Square) — A former employee has sued the city of Seattle claiming racial harassment and the creation of a hostile work environment due to his being a white man.

Joshua Diemert, who worked as a program intake representative in Seattle’s Department of Human Services from January 2013 to September 2021, is seeking $300,000 in damages and an admission by the city that its treatment of him violated his civil rights.

According to the complaint, Diemert’s employment with the city began well and resulted in winning a performance award in his first year. However, Diemert claims that his race became “an albatross around his neck” due to the city’s Race and Social Justice Initiative.

The RSJI, started in 2004 to end institutionalized racism and race-based disparities in the City of Seattle government, is a division of the Seattle office for Civil Rights.

According to Diemert, the tenets of the RSJI, which are taught to employees in mandatory training sessions, caused him to be seen as the beneficiary of structural racism and to be berated for his white privilege resulting in the loss of opportunities for promotion and dismissive treatment by supervisors and colleagues.

This created a “significantly negative impact on Mr. Diemert’s mental and physical health,” the complaint states.

In support of the claim, Diemert states that a supervisor refused to give him assistance when he occupied a lead role and workload increased as he was dealing with a chronic illness. She instead told him that he was denying a person of color the opportunity for promotion and berated him for using his “white privilege” to keep his job.

Diemert states that he later stepped down from the position after “unrelenting coercion and racial harassment” by superiors, which included explicit discussions of his race.

On another occasion, Diemert states, he reported a fellow employee whom he believed was committing fraud. The employee later accosted him verbally and physically, saying that Diemert had racist motives for making that report and that he and his race were to blame for slavery, segregation and wealth disparities.

Diemert also alleges that he was coerced to participate in race-based affinity groups and experienced repeated stereotyping and harassment due to his race.

These concerns were repeatedly expressed to others but were ignored by supervisors, the employee union and the city’s ethics department, the complaint alleges.

The lawsuit was filed Nov. 16.

The Center Square requested but did not receive a comment from Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell before press time.