Three Women File Claims Against Benton Franklin Health District Following Years of Harassment and Secret Video Recordings by District Administrator

Firm News Sexual Assault & Harassment Employment Law
May 10, 2024

SEATTLE, WASH. – Three women in Kennewick, Washington, have filed claims against Benton and Franklin Counties for failing to prevent harms brought upon them in the workplace by the former administrator of the Benton Franklin Health District, Jason Zaccaria. The women, represented by attorneys Elizabeth Hanley and Julie Kline of Seattle law firm Schroeter Goldmark & Bender (SGB), are committed to confronting the institutional failures that allowed Zaccaria to harass his employees and to prevent it from happening to others.

In 2011, Zaccaria was hired as the district administrator by Benton Franklin Health District. He directly supervised the plaintiffs, who include Lisa Wight, former senior manager of human resources at the Health District, and Bonnie Hall, who served as the district’s contracts and billing manager. Zaccaria was the skip-level supervisor of the third plaintiff, Angee Chavez, who held the position of human resources and payroll coordinator.

According to women’s claims, for over a decade, Zaccaria discriminated against and sexually harassed the plaintiffs and other female employees. Court documents detail that the women were subjected to differing employment terms and conditions, unfairly passed over for promotions, and suffered inappropriate contact under Zaccaria. The women even had concerns that Zaccaria had bugged their offices, as he knew information they hadn’t shared with him, they say.

Given the plaintiffs’ management positions at the Health District, and Zaccaria’s supervisory role above them, their claims outline that there was no one to whom they could report his disturbing behavior.

In July of 2023, after Zaccaria was placed on administrative leave, Kennewick Police were alerted that Benton Franklin Health District discovered extensive pornography, videos of minors, and footage of staff that Zaccaria had apparently secretly recorded on electronic devices located in his office. The plaintiffs were notified of the footage and confirmed they had not known or consented to being recorded.

The secret recordings of the women violate the Privacy Act, but despite being investigated for criminal charges, Zaccaria was ultimately not charged due to statute of limitations concerns and resource constraints that prevented a full investigation into the extent of his criminal activities.

Zaccaria resigned from his position shortly thereafter, but the three women he victimized for years have yet to receive any form of justice or compensation for the harm they were subject to.

“The Benton Franklin Health District allowed a perpetrator of abuse to hold a position of power instead of fully addressing the harm they let happen. The Board of Health selectively chose to ignore many complaints received against Zaccaria,” said one of the plaintiffs, Lisa Wight.

“We are nonconsenting victims to his crimes, and we are filing claims now not only for the damages we suffered, but to ensure problematic practices that enable people like Zaccaria are stopped. We want to make sure employees can feel safe in their workplace,” said Bonnie Hall, another plaintiff.

Plaintiff Angee Chavez added, “We also want to make sure that when people raise these types of issues, employers are on notice that employees cannot and should not be punished. Instead, employers should protect their employees.”

“These women, who collectively had 73 years of service to the Health District, were subject to sexual harassment and unfair gender and employment discrimination for years,” said Elizabeth Hanley of SGB, one of the attorneys representing the plaintiffs. “When confronted with institutional failures at the systemic level time and time again, they decided to speak up and take action to prevent other employees from being harmed like they were. Filing these claims is a message to employers everywhere that they can and will be held accountable for not taking appropriate measures to protect employees from predators like Zaccaria in the workplace.”

The claims are currently pending before each of the agencies involved.