Former Longview dentist Sam Wise to pay nearly $770K to former employee over workplace harassment, wrongful termination

A jury awarded a former Longview dental assistant nearly $770,000 this week after finding her former employer — dentist Sam Wise and clinic manager Rima Wise, his wife — subjected her to a sexually charged hostile work environment.

The jury found that Sam Wise shorted plaintiff Darci Cooper’s pay, created a hostile work environment because she is a woman and then fired her without just cause.

Cooper filed the lawsuit in 2020, and the verdict for the four-day civil trial in Cowlitz County Superior Court was announced Monday.

Wise operated Lower Columbia Oral Health at 1538 11th Ave. for almost three years and was evicted in February. Attorneys for the Wises did not return messages from The Daily News. A person who answered the phone number listed for Wise’s Texas clinic online declined to comment.

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The jury found Sam Wise breached contracts with Cooper by not giving Cooper bonuses during certain pay periods or paying for worked lunches.

The panelists also agreed Cooper’s reporting of Sam Wise’s misconduct to the “Washington Employment Department” was a “substantial factor” in Sam Wise’s decision to fire Cooper.

The jury found both Sam Wise and Rima Wise discriminated against Cooper because she is a woman, which created a hostile work environment.

Court records show a work policy posted in January 2020 includes rules about women wearing “decent makeup and perfumes,” and said “makeup, perfume and outfits” would be provided if female employees could not afford them.

According to text messages in court records, Sam Wise said women who don’t want to work where they are called “sexy” or “hot” should leave.

Cooper’s attorney Maria Witt of Portland-based Stutheit Kalin said witnesses told the court Sam Wise regularly talked about the weight and breasts of female employees and patients. During trial, Sam Wise admitted to laying dental tools on the chests of female patients as opposed to a tray, Witt said.

In a July motion to dismiss, the defendants argued the allegations did not constitute workplace harassment. In a deposition, Sam Wise said he did not believe he had made any offensive statements or actions, and his statements didn’t harm his employees.

The January 2020 work policy also includes rules about employees showing allegiance to Sam Wise, including:

  • “Dr. Wise preserves his right of unlimited freedom of speech to express his opinions by words or acts … Under no circumstances any employee can consider his statements/behaviors inappropriate, offensive or harassment.”
  • “Any employee who doesn’t believe in Dr. Wise as the most talented, qualified and highest credentialed dentist in the area must leave the job immediately.”
  • “All employees are mandated to like all pages related to the business and they are requested to leave good reviews expressing their honest opinion without any criticism and without mentioning they work in this business.”

The Washington State Department of Health is reviewing allegations including whether Sam Wise will face disciplinary actions for prescribing his wife a weight-loss drug for sleep apnea as her dentist in Washington in 2019, according to state documents.

Enforcement action for Sam Wise was listed as pending on the Department of Health’s website as of Friday and his dental license was listed as expired.

Wises’ Longview dental practice, which is officially called German Wise Dental LLC, filed bankruptcy in June according to court records.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story was an inaccurate draft and prematurely posted online and deleted.

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