Feb 16, 2023 - Politics

New federal lawsuit names Denver airport CEO Phil Washington

Denver International Airport CEO Phil Washington. Photo: Hyoung Chang/MediaNews Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images

A new federal lawsuit filed this week by a former Denver International Airport executive alleges discriminatory and retaliatory practices at DIA and names airport CEO Phil Washington.

Why it matters: Washington is up for nomination to lead the Federal Aviation Administration — a confirmation process that has been stalled for seven months amid congressional concerns over his aviation experience and ties to a criminal investigation.

  • Meanwhile, his job leading Denver's airport is in limbo, as the city's next mayor can replace him later this year.

Details: Former DIA parking director Benjamin Juarez's lawsuit alleges the city of Denver allowed intolerable working conditions and ongoing threats to his job.

  • While under Washington's leadership, Juarez, who is Hispanic, made numerous complaints about pay disparity, saying white colleagues received higher salaries.
  • He also complained about his then-supervisor making racist comments.

What they're saying: "My client was continually making complaints" and directly contacted Washington at least twice for help, Juarez's attorney, Steven Murray, tells Axios Denver. Murray claims both attempts went unanswered.

  • Instead, Murray alleges, Juarez was subject to a series of retaliatory actions against him, including a notice of misconduct, threats of termination, and a negative performance review.

The other side: DIA and the city attorney's office declined Axios Denver's requests for comment. A spokesperson for the Biden administration did not immediately respond.

The intrigue: DIA hired an outside firm last year to investigate discrimination practices, the Denver Post reported. In May 2022 — two months after Juarez had resigned — the airport fired his former supervisor over allegations of discrimination and harassment.

Flashback: Three years ago, Washington was directly named in a separate lawsuit alleging gender discrimination and whistleblower retaliation related to his time as CEO of Los Angeles' Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA).

  • His name also appeared in a criminal search warrant carried out last September by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which indicated that investigators were seeking information about possible favoritism in how the MTA awarded contracts.
  • Washington has denied wrongdoing and told Bloomberg last September that "all the allegations are false."

What's next: Juarez is seeking a jury trial, as well as back pay and compensatory damages from the city.


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