A 17-year employee with the city of Woodway who alleged Yost Zakhary, the city’s former longtime public safety director and city manager, sexually harassed her has settled her lawsuit with the city for $50,000.
As a result of the settlement, Sandra Bickel, director of communications for the Woodway Public Safety Department, will dismiss the lawsuit and withdraw state and federal discrimination claims against the city, her attorney and city officials confirmed Tuesday.
Scott James, who represented Bickel with attorney Ryan Johnson, and the city’s attorney, Roy Barrett, declined to reveal the settlement amount. However, sources familiar with the litigation said Bickel will receive $50,000 in the agreement.
A resolution was reached through mediation held July 17, James said. The payment to Bickel will come from the city’s insurance carrier, according to a statement released by Barrett.
“The settlement payment is substantially less than it would have cost in future attorney’s fees and expenses to proceed with the litigation,” according to the statement. “The settlement will eliminate the need for city personnel to spend additional time on this matter and will allow the city to concentrate on continuing to provide quality services to its citizens.”
Zakhary, a 39-year city employee, resigned in April after the city conducted an internal investigation into Bickel’s allegations. Zakhary said Tuesday he was unaware of the settlement and referred questions to Barrett.
Zakhary resigned as public safety director in March, but Woodway City Council members allowed him to stay on as city manager as the internal investigation continued. After public furor over the council’s decision, Zakhary resigned as city manager a few weeks later.
Assistant Chief Bret Crook was promoted to chief after Zakhary’s resignation, and John Hatchel, a former Waco assistant city manager, has served as interim city manager. City leaders hope to have a new city manager hired by mid-September.
“Ms. Bickel is very pleased to have this behind her and to keep serving the citizens of Woodway,” James said Tuesday. “She loves her job and plans to do that for many more years. With the new chief and interim city manager, the work environment is excellent. Our desire was to bring a better working environment for all the employees and citizens of Woodway and we believe she received a fair compensation for what she had suffered.”
Bickel alleged Zakhary “permeated” city offices with “ongoing lewd, inappropriate and sexualized comments often directed at specific female employees,” and that he “engaged in sexualized, unwanted touching of multiple female employees and/or former employees.”
Bickel alleged Zakhary grabbed her ponytail, jerked her head back and forth several times and said, “Oh, yeah, you know that’s what your boyfriend likes” at a Woodway barbecue fundraiser in September.
“Multiple female employees and/or former employees have felt distraught, humiliated, embarrassed, scared and physically nauseous due to a pattern of sexual misconduct by Yost Zakhary,” Johnson said in April. “The victims have been rendered helpless and afraid because the perpetrator was both the director of Woodway Public Safety Department and the city manager of Woodway.”
The comment at the fundraiser was made in front of several witnesses, including one who “attempted to stop the chief’s movement and tried to smooth my hair,” according to Bickel’s complaint.
In another alleged incident, Zakhary asked Bickel to walk with him to his car. She said Zakhary complimented her on her weight loss and said she was looking good.
“He added, ‘Then again, I haven’t seen you naked or anything.’ I was caught off-guard by that comment and again nervously laughed it off. I made a comment, which I don’t remember, as I was uncomfortable and didn’t really know what to say or do at that point,” according to the complaint.
Another incident alleged in Bickel’s complaint occurred during a going-away party for an employee, she said. She was walking toward the dispatch office when Zakhary yelled for her to come to the front office. She said he was giving a “shoulder rub” to another female employee and reportedly said, “See, this is how you treat a good employee that I like.”
She walked away, but Zakhary called her back to the front office and made a comment in front of the other employee about how she likes “being spanked.” She said she walked away and Zakhary called her back and said he was just playing.
“Again, I walked away. I was given the advice of next time he made any comments to not acknowledge it and just walk away. This is the first incident where I was able to take the advice and it seemed to work,” Bickel wrote.
Bickel’s complaint states other city employees who work for the city noticed how Zakhary treated her. Other women told her they are “scared for me and don’t want me to be alone with the chief.” A male employee told Bickel she should report what was happening, saying, “We all see that the Chief is targeting you.”