'Degrading and racist': White social worker sues Seattle for CRT-based harassment, retaliation

Lawsuit says city messed with his Family and Medical Leave Act requests in retaliation for criticizing anti-white "Race and Social Justice Initiative" training he was forced to attend.

Updated: November 29, 2022 - 11:11pm

Critical race theory is more than just the employee training framework inside Seattle's Human Services Department, according to a longtime white social worker who received HSD's "maximum achievement" award just three years into his employment.

It was the basis for years of race-based promotions and treatment of program applicants, verbal abuse, retaliation and even violent threats.

Joshua Diemert is seeking $300,000 in compensatory and punitive damages from the City of Seattle for, among other things, refusing to process his Family and Medical Leave Act request last year after he criticized the city's Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI), at which point the U.S. Department of Labor stepped in to force compliance.

Years earlier, during an earlier FMLA stint, Diemert allegedly faced "unrelenting coercion and racial harassment" from his supervisor to give up his "white privilege" by resigning from a lead role so a racial minority could be promoted.

Faced with no support from higher-ups, he gave up the role, and the city promoted "two people of color with no supervisory experience," who required constant hand-holding from Diemert to do his former role, according to his Title VII and 14th Amendment lawsuit against the city and Mayor Bruce Harrell. 

"Mr. Diemert had to constantly be on defense, as his work environment became increasingly toxic and hostile," the suit says. "He was forced to continue looking at degrading and racist material disseminated in the office that labeled him a white supremacist." 

He also lost promotions owed him for going far beyond his own responsibilities — at one point doing the work of six budgeted yet unhired employees because of a senior official's goof — and never received a "permanent promotion nor a substantial pay increase," which he attributes to his opposition to RSJI.

HSD "constructively discharge[d]" him a year ago, nearly nine years after he joined as a program intake representative.

Diemert filed suit after getting authorization from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission this summer, based on a year and a half of charges filed against the city as officials gave him "increasingly adverse treatment" for going to EEOC. He's represented by the Pacific Legal Foundation.

The allegations match earlier disclosures about explicit or de facto use of critical race theory (CRT) in Seattle and King County government entities, including Seattle Public Schools and the county library system and prosecutor's office.

CRT is also taking hold in American medical education, where the identitarian concept that deems American blacks permanently oppressed is required in training or courses in more than half of the top medical schools, according to a recent analysis.

Diemert became a "lead" in 2014 and helped develop city rebate and discount programs on top of his regular duties. 

His problems started in 2016, he claims, when he "repeatedly" told supervisors his work had drastically increased with only a "slight" pay bump and title change, while he was also dealing with a "chronic medical issue." The 2017 clash with his supervisor over his white privilege showed "Diemert was punished for taking FMLA leave because of his race."

At the time he was "utilizing FMLA to abide by his doctor’s 'return to work' order of working no more than 32 hours per week after he had previously taken FMLA leave," Pacific Legal Foundation spokesperson Kate Pomeroy told Just the News. "It was an ongoing situation at the time."

Diemert blew the whistle several times on discriminatory conduct he witnessed in HSD to no avail, including a colleague who denied program benefits to an eligible white applicant based on his "white privilege" the suit claims. Director Gloria Hatcher-Mays "berated" Diemert for this, saying whites couldn't experience racism.

Leaders discouraged hiring whites while he served on interview panels, with Hatcher-Mays telling Diemert to look for "black female refugees that speak Farsi," and even excluded whites from the department's study of underserved racial subgroups, the complaint alleges.

The city turned a blind eye to escalating intimidation against Diemert starting in 2019, after he reported his team lead Shamsu Said for "misusing the HSD system for personal gain," Diemert claims.  

Said would "publicly accost" Diemert in the office, accusing him of complicity in slavery, and "chest bumped" him once for reporting Said, who implied that a racist system compelled him to commit fraud, according to the suit.

Diemert alleges that his objections to the RSJI training made him the target of ongoing harassment from colleagues, who used work email to call him a "white supremacist" and "reincarnation of the people that ... rounded up jews for the camps." One coworker even suggested someone "beat him bloody" in the restroom. Pomeroy told Just the News those emails wouldn't be made available in any form.

He couldn't avoid RSJI training even after completing his own requirements because of its "diffuse nature" across all levels of city government. Just achieving a "fully performing" rating in his annual evaluations required attending technically optional meetings, the suit claims.

Despite submitting a doctor's note in late 2018 asking for a few months' reprieve from RSJI events, calling them "severely detrimental to his health," Diemert was never excused.

Diemert's attempt to join a non-white racial affinity group, rejecting repeated pressure to join the white group, led his union representative to become "very agitated." He asked repeatedly to stop receiving invitations to the "blatantly racist" events, and was warned by another union rep that his suggestion to start a race-neutral affinity group "could result in insubordination."

"The City also disseminated and encouraged racist messaging in emails, lunchroom conversations, meetings, and training," leading to personal confrontations with Diemert for expressing disagreement, he says. He later learned the city was "actively investigating" him for unknown reasons and had a "confidential file" on him.

HSD "openly discussed" race-based layoffs in meetings Diemert was required to attend in the first two years of the pandemic, he recounts, including ways to "bump" whites with seniority in favor of black, indigenous and people of color. 

BIPOC were also given preference for ongoing telework, he claims, requiring Diemert — who's at higher risk from COVID-19 — to return to the office in August 2021. He resigned the next month.

The City of Seattle and Mayor Bruce Harrell's office didn't respond to queries from Just the News. Neither did Hatcher-Mays or Said, who each appear to have left city government.