Seattle’s Human Services Department (HSD) hired Joshua Diemert in 2013 as a program intake representative. He consistently received excellent work evaluations, was in high demand across several city departments, and in just one year, earned a prestigious award recognizing the noticeable difference his performance and efforts made to his colleagues, his department, and those he served.
Despite his hard work, Joshua endured years of harassment and racial discrimination with no escape, no recourse, and no way to shed his employer-prescribed badge of inferiority except to leave the job. Now, he’s fighting back.
The workplace hostility stems from Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI), a citywide effort that began in 2004 as city council and mayoral directives to end city government’s purported “institutional racism” and to achieve racial equity in the community. Led by the Seattle Office for Civil Rights, the initiative forces city employees to apply a “Racial Equity Toolkit”—derived from critical race theory—to every city function imaginable.
For Joshua’s department, this meant required trainings that aggressively promoted notions such as “white privilege” and collective guilt that white employees must shoulder for societal inequities. At some trainings, he was required to acknowledge his complicity in racism. He experienced constant coercion to join racial affinity groups that would meet separately to work on matters of “race.”
The trainings’ race-soaked messages spilled into the workplace, where Joshua’s managers frequently repeated the initiative’s principles. The city also disseminated and encouraged racist messaging in emails, lunchroom conversations, and meetings. Joshua often felt pressured into conforming for fear of retaliation and even more hostility from his supervisors and coworkers.
When he spoke up against egregiously racist messaging at a required workshop, his coworkers labeled him a white supremacist. And belligerent colleagues continuously berated him about his race.
The RSJI’s discriminatory framework pervaded and strained every aspect of Joshua’s workplace experience and took a heavy toll on his health. In 2018, a doctor recommended he be excused from the cultural sensitivity training classes for a few months to relieve his stress—a request his department never honored.
The city knew of Joshua’s racial harassment and its impact on his health yet ignored his concerns, chalking them up to his “white privilege.” Neither his devotion to his work nor his track record could overcome the fact that under the city’s policies, he’d forever be viewed negatively because of his skin color.
Whether government or private sector, everyone should be free from workplace harassment and evaluated by their character and individual contributions. Reducing a worker to the color of their skin strips their human dignity. This is immoral and illegal.
The city’s requirements for on-the-job RSJI training and race-based programming, affinity groups, segregated staff meetings, and open commitment to racial distinctions among city staff violate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Seattle’s creation of a racially hostile work environment also violated Joshua’s equal protection rights.
In December 2020, Joshua filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Due to a backlog, the agency didn’t take up the issue until April 2021. During that time, Joshua’s harassment and discrimination became so extreme that he finally resigned.
But Joshua hasn’t given up his fight. Represented at no charge by PLF, Joshua is suing the City of Seattle in federal court. A win will vindicate Joshua’s right to workplace equality and protect everyone’s right to be judged by the content of their individual character and work product, rather than being labeled and classified through the lens of discriminatory workplace equity initiatives.