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Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Family Values

posted by on July 15 at 15:13 PM

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.

RSS icon Comments


I love the way you back up your accusations with guesses instead of phone calls or interview requests.

I guess that makes you less a reporter and more of a, ahem, "stupid fucking credulous hack."

Posted by Bryce in Newbridge | July 15, 2008 3:29 PM

At least I don't plaster make-up on my face like a trollop, you cunt.

Posted by John McCain | July 15, 2008 3:44 PM

So if this happened 3 and a half years ago, and there was an internal investigation that at least partly vindicated the claims, why wait so long? Not doubting the allegations, and I do think they need to be answered. But I wonder if the current election is informing this. Like: who tipped off Goldy?

Posted by Trevor | July 15, 2008 3:54 PM

Tres gay!

Posted by Gaylord | July 15, 2008 4:06 PM

3 goldy says he was informed by a partisan, but that the info is independently verifiable.

Posted by vooodooo84 | July 15, 2008 4:10 PM

nobody cared when we found out our sitting president was engaging in this kind of behavior, so don't expect people to care too much when it's the state commissioner of somethingorother.

Posted by brandon | July 15, 2008 4:15 PM

Now this is the ECB we all know and love!

Remember - dig deep and find dirt, but remember you're supposed to be more impartial than you feel.

Keep at it!

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 15, 2008 4:15 PM

If this happens to you, DON'T RESIGN. Go to your HR person and raise a stink, and make it clear that you intend to (a) sue and (b) contact the press. Shine a light on these cockroaches; what he did was illegal and potentially VERY expensive for the state. It is not morality but the fear of lawsuits that will prevent this from happening again and again.

Sutherland belongs in jail, and the young woman should be getting close to a million dollars in settlement damages and back pay.

Posted by Fnarf | July 15, 2008 4:33 PM

Fnarf is right about the advice, but before you do that make sure you document exactly what happened, get copies at home, and remember there is a very short clock to file SH suits and it starts from the incident. If anyone witnessed it that was a friend, get them to sign a short descriptive statement that is dated as well.

And don't just stop at just one paper when talking to the press.

That said, most people never file. But if you document, it's much less likely to be used against you.

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 15, 2008 5:03 PM

@1: Douche much? Erica clearly stated that she is busy but wanted to point this story out; if it was printed as an article in the Stranger without investigation you might have had a point. But you don't.

@6: This is really different. There was some amount of consent between Monica and Bill; not in this case.

@8: Fnarf, you're awesome. The sad fact is that there is very little proactive support for people who get harassed at work. I've never been harassed in such an overtly sexual manner as this woman, but I have experienced a lot of denigration and disrespect as a woman, especially in supervisory jobs I've held and I got it from above and below.

Often it just seems easier to quit and move on and hope the next job will have less bullshit. In this case, with her supervisor reacting with blame-the-victim bullshit, I think she probably was better off quitting. But why didn't she sue?

Another tactic I wish more women (well, everyone really) would do is immediately call bullshit on inappropriate touching, especially if it happens in public. It's hard to do, because if you do bring it up you are likely to get "oh, he's just a regular guy" or "aren't you overreacting." But there are a hell of a lot of people who don't understand the concept of personal boundaries, and they need to be called out.

Finally, if you are a dude and you see another dude inappropriately touching a woman, feel free to speak up - not in a knight-in-shining-armor way, but just as an ally. I know several women who have experienced crap like this and wished the other people around had been vocal when it happened, instead of waiting until later.

Posted by asteria | July 15, 2008 5:20 PM

Doug Sutherland is a piece of shit.

Posted by laterite | July 15, 2008 5:31 PM

11- actually, i wasn't referring to the consentual acts between monica and bill, but the non-consentual, alleged acts between bill and paula jones, bill and kathleen willey, et al, all of which are more or less identical to what allegedly went on here.

Posted by brandon | July 15, 2008 6:34 PM

that's 10, not 11.

Posted by brandon | July 15, 2008 6:37 PM

@12/13: Sorry - you're right! How could I have forgotten about Paula & Kathleen?

Posted by asteria | July 15, 2008 6:56 PM

What? Say something at the time? Stand up for yourself? Kick a guy in the nuts?

Naaaw, let's just have more training classes, more and more training classes, and lawsuits, or dicsussions of lawsuits that almost happened. What America needs, clearly, is more process. And more training classes that the harassers just don't understand means THEM.

They do it because they can.

Bring back the fistfight! Or the duel with flintlocks. Or something. Please.

Posted by CP | July 16, 2008 12:49 AM

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