My Story So Far

For a January 2023 update of my story, including the current status of my lawsuits against the State and its co-defendants, go to “Starting Over.” 

Seven years ago, I had a major health crisis. Most families eventually will say something like that. In my case, my doctor diagnosed me with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. My symptoms were triggered by recent events, but they were rooted in trauma that occurred thirty years ago

Over the last few years I've published dozens of essays on this blog about my experience learning to live with mental illness, as well as writing about numerous other topics including parenting, brain science, and gay choruses. Fortunately, I’ve been blessed with a supportive family and excellent caregivers. My three kids and I are all thriving here in Bellingham. 

Unfortunately, some people responded to my disability with much less acceptance and support. Most disabled individuals can tell similar stories about society’s continued failure to measure up to the promise of equality.
This particular story is about an employer that bungled its response to a disabled employee. The employer is a law firm – the largest law firm in Washington. Over 500 government attorneys report to elected Attorney General Bob Ferguson, through his top lieutenant, Chief Deputy Attorney General Shane Esquibel.

After my PTSD diagnosis in November 2015, I was unable to communicate effectively with my supervisors about my disability. In March 2016, I hired an experienced Seattle employment lawyer to represent me in negotiating with the Attorney General’s Office about potential reasonable potential accommodations. 

Employees of the Attorney General’s Office were the ones who triggered and then exacerbated my debilitating PTSD symptoms. Then they turned around and discriminated against me. They gaslighted me at work, and refused to respond to my lawyer’s attempts to engage them in a good faith dialogue about my disability.

Any large employer should have known better. Coming from the State’s lawyers just made it worse. I’d wrongly believed Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s claim to be a champion of justice. Instead, the Attorney General’s Office turned out to be an incompetent and dishonest bureaucracy headed by a self-promoting politician and his loyal lieutenant.

Despite repeated attempts by the Attorney General’s Office to cover up their unethical and illegal conduct, I refuse to be silenced. To the contrary, the ironic silver lining to my PTSD diagnosis is that I've finally found my voice.

So here's My Story So Far:

The Washington Attorney General’s Office hired me to serve as the chief legal advisor to Western Washington University in July 2015. Within weeks I began exhibiting strange new anxiety symptoms. Some of my colleagues were bothered by my odd conduct, now revealed to have been related to my disability. They quickly decided I was a “bad fit,” and resolved to get rid of me. Eventually my healthcare providers and I figured out what was happening. But it was too late to salvage my career. 

Sadly, this kind of discriminatory experience happens to disabled employees in workplaces every day, particularly to individuals living with mental illness. No doubt there are other individuals within the Attorney General’s Office who have a real commitment to inclusion. Unfortunately, in my particular case a handful of bureaucratic employees bungled the Attorney General’s Office’s response to my disability disclosure, and my request that my employers find a reasonable way to accommodate my disability.

Meanwhile, as a separate matter, in January 2016 I discovered I was also the victim of a pattern of homophobic conduct by certain of my supervisors and client contacts. Following the Attorney General’s internal procedure for handling allegations of discrimination, I submitted a written complaint regarding punitive actions my employer took based on a specific homophobic encounter with my immediate supervisor that had occurred several months before. The Attorney General’s Office hired an outside private investigator to look into my sexual orientation discrimination complaint, and directed me to meet with the investigator one-on-one and answer his questions. 

Here’s the next tragic error by the Attorney General’s Office. They'd already gone through the government contracting process and hired their chosen private investigator to handle my complaint of discrimination based on sexual orientation. Then someone within the office decided it made sense to combine the investigation into my narrow discrimination complaint with a second assignment:  having the same investigator evaluate a secret litany of complaints from the supervisors who had already decided to get rid of me. (I never had an opportunity to respond to these secret complaints. Nevertheless, a subsequent examination of the record showed that most of their criticisms were unfounded; others were based on conduct related to my disability, and thus protected by federal and state antidiscrimination laws.) 

I don’t know who came up with the bright idea of hijacking my discrimination complaint. But we now know the final decision occurred at a meeting in March 2016 chaired by Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s top lieutenant, Chief Deputy Attorney General Shane Esquibel. In any event, my employers neglected to tell me they had secretly expanded the scope of the investigator’s original assignment. To the contrary, both my employers and their private investigator explicitly assured me the investigation was limited to discrimination based on sexual orientation. 

Despite the fog of mental illness, I managed to do one smart thing:  I used my savings to hire an experienced Seattle employment lawyer who specializes in disability accommodation and discrimination to represent me in my dispute with the Attorney General’s Office. I didn’t ask her to handle my pending sexual orientation discrimination complaint, because that’s one of my own legal specialties. Based on what the Attorney General’s lawyers and private investigator said, I assumed the investigation into alleged sexual orientation discrimination by my supervisor was separate from any issues related to my own conduct and my disability.

My hiring a disability lawyer interfered with my employer’s secret plan to use the private investigator’s report as a pretext for firing me. Rather than change their plan, however, the Attorney General’s Office’s made an even bigger error. In violation of the ethical rules governing all lawyers, senior representatives of the Washington Attorney General’s Office denied me the benefit of the disability attorney I hired to represent me for the specific purpose of engaging the Attorney General’s Office in a good faith dialogue about my continued employment and potential accommodations of my disability. 

After the Attorney General’s Office terminated my employment, with my lawyer’s help I mediated and settled my claims against the State based on the information we had. Then I reached out to the private investigator firm in an attempt to clear my name. The investigators refused to respond, and instead lawyered up. 

Eventually I decided that I’d made enough progress with my PTSD to go back and figure out what happened. Internal documents produced by the Attorney General’s Office under Washington’s robust Public Records Act corroborated my accusation that my former employers engaged in a pattern of incompetence and dishonesty both before and after they wrongfully terminated my employment. 

Among other irregularities and ethical lapses, I discovered that in course of bungling the State’s response to my disability disclosure, the Attorney General Office’s top employment lawyers – including Chief Deputy Attorney General Shane Esquibel – violated the Rules of Professional Conduct when they directed their private investigator to interrogate me alone in his office for over an hour, even though they knew I was represented by an attorney. When they realized their error, they stonewalled my attorney’s repeated inquiries, and embarked on a clumsy coverup.

In December 2018, I filed bar complaints against the two experienced employment lawyers who were involved in these serious ethical violations:  Chief Deputy Attorney General Shane Esquibel and his flunky Assistant Attorney General Kari Hanson. My bar complaints are currently pending with investigators at the Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the Washington State Bar Association. 

As the cliché goes, the cover-up quickly becomes worse than the crime. Representatives of the Attorney General’s Office responded to my bar complaints with self-righteous lies. Frustrated by continued stonewalling from the Attorney General’s minions, I remembered what William Goldman’s fictionalized “Deep Throat” in All the President’s Men told reporters Woodward and Bernstein: “Follow the money.” 

Washington has very strict laws prohibiting the use of public resources for private benefit. Government attorneys are therefore forbidden from representing private individuals. This longstanding legal rule bars lawyers from the Attorney General’s Office from representing individual government employees charged with ethics violations. Like any other attorney accused of unethical conduct, Mr. Esquibel and Ms. Hanson should have hired lawyers to defend them at their own expense, or chosen to represent themselves. 

Instead, they asked their colleagues from the Attorney General’s Office to respond to the bar complaints at tax-payer expense. According to invoices provided under the Public Records Act, three other attorneys employed by the Attorney General Bob Ferguson, including the office’s outside ethics expert, have been involved. As of April 4, 2019, these supposed public servants had provided thousands of dollars worth of legal services to Mr. Esquibel and Ms. Hanson for their purely private benefit.

What will it take to end this attitude of toxic entitlement? Or the Attorney General's Office's culture of incompetence, defensiveness, and dishonesty?

Over the last few years, I’ve written thousands of words about how my former employers at the Washington Attorney General’s Office and their sleazy lawyer-investigator bungled their response to my disability disclosure. Together they exacerbated my injuries, discriminated against me, and illegally fired me.

What I haven’t discussed until now is what I learned from the State’s incriminating paper trail about why this happened. Why did a bunch of supposedly smart lawyers break the law in their haste to expel an outsider who everyone acknowledged was providing exceptional legal services to the university? The answer: because one of my agency clients, former Western Washington University President Bruce Shepard, demanded that I be fired. 

One of the few silver linings in Donald Trump’s poisonous orange cloud is that his election made it much easier to explain how “malignant narcissist personality disorder" works. I have no reason to doubt that Bruce Shepard was an able administrator and educator. (Unlike Donald Trump.) However, by the time I interacted with him during the 2015-16 school year after he had already announced his retirement, President Shepard was demonstrating increasingly obvious indicia of malignant narcissism. For example, Bruce Shepard became enraged by criticism, or even by the mere hint someone might say “no” to him. He considered himself above the law. When the lawyers at the Attorney General’s Office destroyed my life, they did it to accommodate President Shepard’s malice and prejudice. 

Not all abuse involves sex, but all abuse involves power and its misuse. Recently I realized it was time to share this important part of my story. Here’s what I wrote in my final settlement offer to the State: “This month Western’s administration and its equal opportunity team have a final opportunity to decide what kind of relationship you and I will have going forward. Are you another abusive former partner who doesn’t belong in my life and no longer deserves my affection and protection? Or a fellow past victim of malignant narcissists and unethical lawyers who is interested in building a healthy relationship?”

When the State ignored my settlement offer, I was disappointed but a little relieved. I now recognize that silence is how victims typically respond to a pattern of abuse by powerful men. So my December 13, 2019 blog post, "Make Waves," publishes my “coming out” remarks to the Board of Trustees of Western Washington University. My lawsuit against the State and its representatives is currently pending in federal court.

Several years into this journey, I’m disappointed to report that I’m still a disabled middle-aged unemployed gay single dad trapped in a small town. 

I’m frustrated. I still pull my hair out. I read a lot, and write even more. I hug kids and dogs. I escape to Vancouver. I have good days and better days. I struggle with the pace and uncertainty of various hiring, legal, and other processes. I recognize that no one really wants to listen when you speak truth to power, particularly if you’re disabled. And when you use too many words.

Still, I’m more privileged than most people, including most disabled people. My health is much improved. I have amazing resilient children, and the safety net of loving parents nearby. As I wrote when I began this advocacy five years ago, I recognize I’ve joined a dialogue about including disabled people that has been going on for decades – and a movement that in many ways still hasn’t progressed much further than where LGBT folks were when I began advocating for that community over two decades ago.  

So I will continue writing and speaking out about injustice. Because someone has to. 

For a January 2023 update of my story, including the status of my lawsuits against the State and its co-defendants, go to Starting Over.” 

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