If it were up to a jury, Gov. Mike Lowry would be cleared of sexual harassment allegations leveled by his former aide Susanne Albright, an independent investigator concludes.
The report issued Thursday by Seattle attorney Mary Alice Theiler says Albright clearly felt uncomfortable with Lowry’s conduct, but it probably didn’t constitute harassment.
“This is not to say there is no possibility that (harassment) occurred,” Theiler wrote.
“However, if the case went to a jury, with the facts as I know them, I do not believe a jury would find in her favor.”
Theiler interviewed more than 50 people over two months about the governor’s conduct.
Lowry’s office selected Theiler to look into allegations of sexual harassment by Albright, 37, who left her $48,000-a-year job as a spokeswoman for the governor in November.
“In analyzing each of the events that occurred, I am left with the clear sense that most of the incidents are capable of either a neutral interpretation, or standing alone, would not constitute sexual harassment,” Theiler concludes.
The report was immediately criticized by Albright’s attorney, Larry Finegold, who said the conclusion was not supported by statements made by Albright and two other women who worked for Lowry when he served in Congress from 1978 to 1988.
“I don’t know how you could read this report and draw any other conclusion than that sexual harassment occurred,” Finegold said.
Albright was taken to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle around midnight Wednesday for what a police report called a suicide attempt.
Albright apparently attempted suicide Wednesday by taking an unknown quantity of prescription medicine, the Seattle police report says. Paramedics took her to Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center shortly before midnight, and she remained there until around noon Thursday, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reported.
Albright declined to comment after being released from the hospital. She has not decided whether to pursue her harassment complaint by suing Lowry, Finegold said.
Lowry declined to comment in detail about the report, scheduling a press conference for today.
In Tacoma on Thursday he told reporters, “I have learned a lesson… I have learned the hard way.” He said he takes responsibility for not realizing Albright’s discomfort with his behavior.
He said his gregarious, “way-to-go teamwork” approach and assorted pats and hugs were misinterpreted.
The report details many conflicting accounts of what happened between Lowry and Albright, and ultimately, Theiler concludes no one really knows.
“If someone feels they know ‘what really happened’ in this case, they should be viewed with extreme suspicion or canonized,” Theiler wrote.
But two consistent themes surface, dating back to Lowry’s days as a congressman: staffers feared his temper, and female employees who claimed he sexually harassed them found themselves stuck with “silent accommodation.”
“In my estimation, the system failed these women,” Theiler wrote. “At least one of the two former Congressional employees reported her concerns to her supervisor and asked for a change in her job duties and the supervisor accommodated her without taking any other steps to correct the situation.
“As a result, the employee was forced to bear the brunt of the accommodation, and the Congressman was not told that his conduct was offending someone. Both of them lost out.”
Theiler notes she does not mean to infer that sexual harassment occurred. But she states “this silent accommodation is a perfect example of the way that such victims have been shunted aside, and the treatment has been allowed to continue.
“Given this history it is no wonder Ms. Albright was so reluctant to confront the governor directly with her concerns. She feared rightly or wrongly that she too would be shunted aside and rendered ineffective, unable to adequately perform her job.”
Throughout the 51-page report, Albright is portrayed as both confiding her discomfort about Lowry to friends and supervisors, and begging them not to tell him about it. She wanted to advance in her job, but at times wanted to leave she was so distraught.
Albright described numerous instances in which she claimed Lowry touched her leg, neck, the side of her breast, or in one instance, her buttocks. Most of the events occurred when the two were traveling on business, either in Lowry’s car or a State Patrol airplane.
She claimed Lowry once greeted her at the Governor’s Mansion wearing only a towel, and on another occasion made a crude remark about preferring the appearance of women in swimsuits in cold weather.
Albright described a scene at her home in which she and Lowry had been drinking wine with friends over dinner. The two got into a shouting match that degenerated into her telling the governor to leave.
Lowry got up, tripping over a coffee table in the process, and went to speak to Albright, who had retreated to the kitchen. She claimed Lowry held her close and touched her buttocks. Lowry and a friend also in the kitchen denied it.
“The hug was more of a ‘don’t worry about it gesture,”’ Lowry told Theiler.
Theiler decided the accounts of that Nov. 14 dinner were inconclusive, in part because those concerned had been drinking, which could have affected their memories.
Albright also described a trip to Spokane on Oct 4. in which she claimed Lowry invited her into his hotel room in the evening, invited her out for a drink and declared they should be having some fun.
Albright said she declined, and retired to her room, where Lowry called her and again suggested going out for a drink.
Albright described feeling “stalked” and so uneasy she propped a chair against the door, and slept little that night.
“In the morning she was having coffee and the governor came downstairs and told her he hoped she didn’t feel he had been coming on to her that night,” Theiler wrote in the report. “She indicates he was running his hands down her leg while saying this. She said just forget it.”
Lowry’s version was far different. “Nothing occurred other than a straight professional relationship,” Lowry told Theiler. He said he didn’t suggest to Albright they have a drink, or say they should be having fun.
Lowry added he “didn’t have a clue” that Albright felt uncomfortable with any treatment of her by him.
Theiler wrote that Lowry needs to be more aware of how his actions affect other people.
“I have been told by enough people to believe it that the governor is or has been oblivious to the ways that he touches people. What this tells me is that the governor needs to be more conscious of his actions if he wants to be sure he is not engaging in conduct that is offensive.”
Lowry’s outbursts of temper also have made confiding in him unlikely, the report concludes. “The governor’s reputation in this regard has likely impeded the willingness of people to communicate complaints to him, and may continue to do so in the future if a different process is not set up.”
Lorraine Hine, the governor’s staff director, said Thursday Lowry asked the state personnel director to devise a new policy for the office under which employees can make complaints known, without having to go directly to a supervisor.
Personnel Director Dennis Karras also has been told to design a sexual harassment training program for top staff in the governor’s office, including Lowry.
Personnel in Lowry’s office underwent sensitivity training last fall after a Washington State Patrol fingerprint technician accused the governor of inappropriate touching.
An investigation found that allegation was unfounded.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with story: Some accusations A sampling of accusations against Gov. Mike Lowry, who denies them all. Former Lowry aide Susanne Albright said the governor touched her neck, her midriff near her breast and her leg. When he touched her, he smiled in a manner she felt was leering and asked her if the touching bothered her. He also made comments such as “Susanne? Is this the Susanne with the beautiful long legs?” Albright said. A woman who worked for Lowry when he was in Congress said he kissed her in a way she felt was sexual. On two occasions, she said, he gave her a hug which included touching her breast. Another woman who worked for Lowry in Congress said he kissed her on the mouth, gave her extra-long waist hugs and rubbed her leg. While giving her a neck rub, she said, his hands moved down toward her breasts. The attorney who investigated Albright’s complaint concluded that “if the case went to a jury, with the facts as I know them, I do not believe a jury would find in her favor. The more likely conclusion is that the governor did not engage in conduct that constituted sexual harassment … but rather did touch her in a manner which she personally found offensive.”