Politics Family Values
posted by July 15 at 15:13 PMon
I’ve got my hands full putting out this week’s news section, but I wanted to call Slog readers’ attention to a blockbuster story by David Goldstein on Horse’s Ass about Republican state Commissioner of Public Lands Doug Sutherland. According to Goldy, a young woman who worked for the Department of Natural Resources resigned in 2005 after Sutherland repeatedly sexually harassed her. From HA:
On January 15, 2005, a young, female employee, recently hired by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), was introduced to Commissioner Sutherland at a state meeting in Pacific, WA. Following is a description of the initial encounter, as transcribed from the woman’s handwritten notes:
Jon introduces me to the commissioner. “Doug, this is [REDACTED], the new public use forester.”
I shake his hand. [REDACTED] great to meet you.”
We resume to positions in tight circle.
Commissioner reaches across circle (& Doug M.) w/ his hand & grabs my left shoulder. Feels it, then twists me around so that my back is facing him & he holds me w/ one hand & feels my back (open palmed) from my neck down to my waist, shoulders, etc. Says something about “just looking.”
I am incredulous & half-smiling w/lack of reaction & blush v. red.
Doug Mc[Clelland, a division head at DNR and Sutherland aide]. (I made eye contact wi/ him @ some point during the inappropriate touching) & he made a comment like “We hire them strong.” or “Strong back.”
When commissioner returned to his position in the circle he said “Could have felt… up front” or “could have felt the other side”
“Wouldn’t be right.”
No, it wouldn’t have been right for the then 68-year-old Sutherland to feel this young woman’s breasts, but then, in the unanimous opinion of those who witnessed his actions, it clearly wasn’t right for him to rub her neck, shoulder, back and waist either. And for those who might question the recall of a young woman who at times appears teetering on the edge of shock, her contemporaneous notes are not only corroborated by various eyewitnesses, but at times elaborated on in ways that make Sutherland’s behavior appear all the more more inexcusable.
According to the young woman’s notes, she was then told by her supervisor that Sutherland was “just being a regular guy,” and asked not to get so upset. Subsequently, according to McClelland’s account, the supervisor used the incident as a “teachable moment” to tell her she should button her shirt up.
After another similar incident involving the commissioner (according to the woman’s notes, he “placed his right hand on the right side of my lower waist & ran his hand across my waist”), the woman resigned, filing a sexual harassment complaint against Sutherland. Goldy writes:
This was no minor incident, the victim’s complaint throwing DNR into a frenzy of damage control. Meetings were held, testimony taken, statements given, memos written, supervisors reassigned, counseling given, and reminders on appropriate workplace behavior sent department wide. According to notes from a January 24 meeting, it was determined that the incident was a violation of DNR policy, that disciplinary action was warranted, and that it was in fact sexual harassment… but that due to the fact that it was “isolated,” “not hostile,” and involved no “quid pro quo,” it did not rise to the level of “illegal” sexual harassment.
Well, maybe. I discussed the case with a former county prosecutor who insisted that had their executive been involved in an incident like this, they would have settled in a heartbeat rather than risk going to trial. Whatever. The victim never filed suit, so we’ll never know.
What we do know is that the shockingly inappropriate behavior of Commissioner Sutherland led directly to the resignation of a young female employee, and the disruption and distraction of a number of managers who otherwise might have carried out the actual business of DNR… you know, trivial things like preventing timber companies from clearcutting unstable slopes.
According to Goldstein, four major media outlets have been sitting on this information, including the woman’s notes and corroborating testimony, for at least four months, but chose to do nothing with it. Why are news outlets protecting Sutherland from these explosive charges? They certainly had no problem bringing up former Democratic Gov. Mike Lowry’s sexual-harassment case when he ran against Sutherland in 2000. Goldstein wouldn’t tell me which news sources they were, but I’m guessing the Times (which has repeatedly endorsed Sutherland) and P-I are among them.