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Fire department, Hackett agree to a $800,000 settlement in gender discrimination case

The Islander who successfully sued the Vashon fire department for the way she was treated during her attempt to get a job as a firefighter at the agency said she's glad to have the lawsuit behind her.

In her first words about the suit since she won her far-reaching gender discrimination case in King County Superior Court in February, Lanora Hackett also said she's pleased by how the suit was finally resolved.

"I'm thrilled by the settlement," she said.

"I think I made my point," she added. "I hope we can all move forward and that the changes that they made over there (at Vashon Island Fire & Rescue) are good."

Hackett's comments came days after both sides announced that the case — which the fire department was poised to take to the state Court of Appeals — had been settled after a day of out-of-court negotiations Monday.

VIFR's commissioners ratified the settlement at a special meeting Wednesday night. Neal Philip, who chairs the board, told his colleagues that the two sides, in reaching the settlement, agreed on a $200,000 reduction in the judgment against the district, bringing the fire department's penalty to $800,000.

That figure does not include VIFR's legal costs, he noted. But the insurance company will likely pay a higher proportion of the judgment against the fire department than it had previously announced, Philip said; he believes the insurance company could end up paying at least $200,000.

The settlement also included Hackett's agreement to resign as a volunteer for the department. At one point, she had been one of the most active volunteers at VIFR, an agency that's a blend of professional and volunteer firefighters and medics.

"We have disagreed" over the facts of the case, Philip said at Wednesday's meeting. "But it's time to move on. The department has gotten the message."

The agency, he added, "is an entirely different place than when the Hackett case was filed."

The commissioners ratified the settlement with little discussion. Only David Hoffmann expressed unhappiness with the outcome of the protracted legal battle. "I don't agree with the judgment, but I'll agree to move on," he said.

When Philip opened the meeting up to comments from Islanders, Hilary Emmer, who has paid close attention to the issues in the case, asked Philip if the settlement nullified the judge's decision, which found the department guilty of gender discrimination, retaliatory behavior and creating a hostile workplace.

"The settlement does not undo the judgment," he answered.

Alice Larson, another Islander who's followed the case, asked Philip if he's trying to say the department was not wrong in how it treated Hackett by using the phrase "move on."

Philip said that a review of the public record surrounding the cases shows that "admissions have been made."

He added, "We believe we've made the necessary changes. .... We're done with this case. You may not be done, but we're done."

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