Former Portland Finance Chief Jack D. Graham Will Sue City for Racial Discrimination

The City of Portland's former finance chief, Jack D. Graham, has filed notice of his intent to sue the city for racial discrimination and defamation.

The tort claim filed by Graham this afternoon says Graham intends to individually sue three city commissioners—Nick Fish, Amanda Fritz and Steve Novick—for comments they made about a city investigation into his handling of a money transfer.

"Even more shocking," writes Graham's attorney Dana Sullivan, "Commissioners Fritz and Novick made false and stigmatizing statements about Mr. Graham to the media without even having read the investigation findings."

Graham, the city's chief administrative officer, was investigated last year when two co-workers complained he tried to shuffle money improperly between bureaus to help ease a budget crunch in May 2012.

Mayor Charlie Hales fired Graham in November, saying ongoing quarrels over his handling of money were distracting the city.

Graham's claim says that he was treated differently than other financial officials who shuffled money in the same way.

"In contrast, Sullivan writes, "the City turned a blind eye when white financial managers completed a comparable transfer in 2011 and did not make public statements impugning those managers' ethics or professional competency."

The claim describes a pervasive atmosphere of racism throughout Portland's city bureaucracy—including a financial manager writing about the number of African-American employees and asking why he wasn't allowed to refer to them as "colored."

"The widespread stereotyped perception that Mr. Graham and other African Americans whom he hired were not competent for their roles influenced how Mr. Graham was treated throughout his employment," Sullivan writes, "caused the City to treat him less favorably than his white peers and subordinates and contributed to the City's decision to terminate him." 

Graham's claim singles out Commissioner Amanda Fritz, whose formation of a City Budget Office in 2012 is one of her signature accomplishments. It also removed city budget creation from Graham's office—and led to a promotion for Andrew Scott, one of the whistle-blowers on Graham's attempted money transfer.

"When Mr. Graham expressed opposition to Commissioner Fritz's proposal to establish an independent budget office under the direction of Mr. Scott, one of his principal detractors, Commissioner Fritz retaliated by seeking to publicly discredit him to serve her own political agenda," Sullivan writes.

Fritz tells WW she can't comment on pending litigation.

"My record of supporting women and minorities working in City government," she adds, "speaks for itself."

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