Report On Lowry Comes As No Shock To Women’s Groups
A report released this week absolving Gov. Mike Lowry of illegal sexual harassment shows how difficult it is to prove such charges against a powerful man, angry women’s rights activists said Friday.
“Power cloaks white males more safely and securely,” said Kimberly Reason, executive director of the Northwest Women’s Law Center in Seattle.
The activists said they weren’t surprised that ex-Lowry aide Susanne Albright apparently tried to commit suicide hours after the release of a report that said Lowry probably didn’t engage in illegal sexual harassment toward her.
“People don’t believe women,” said Linda Mangel, a staff attorney at the law center who has worked on employment discrimination cases for the U.S. Department of Justice.
“Blaming the victim is the first thing we do. You are ruined in these situations. You are labeled a troublemaker,” Mangel said.
Lowry’s temper intimidated female aides in Congress and in Olympia into “silent accommodation” of a pattern of behavior that included pats, hugs and kisses, according to the report by Seattle attorney Mary Alice Theiler.
“No woman should have to work under such circumstances,” said Nancy Helen Fischer, head of the Washington State Women’s Political Caucus.
She rapped Theiler’s report for downplaying Lowry’s “pattern of behavior over at least a decade.”
Albright had nowhere to go to discuss her discomfort with Lowry, said a leader in Seattle’s National Organization for Women chapter.
“We find it absolutely inexcusable that the governor’s office has no safe process for reporting and dealing with these types of problems and allegations,” said NOW’s Chris Gaston.
Albright could have reported her concerns, but chose not to, said Judith Gilmore of Lowry’s Spokane office.
“I am discouraged that Susanne didn’t feel she could address her concerns directly to the governor. I don’t have any problem addressing him,” she said.
Gilmore, a prominent feminist, said she probably would have left the governor’s staff if Theiler had concluded Lowry was guilty of “blatant aggression.”
“I would have had a personal decision to make. I was waiting to see what this independent report brought out,” she said.
Lowry apparently learned nothing from an earlier incident involving a Washington State Patrol fingerprint technician who complained Lowry had touched her inappropriately, Gaston said.
“Mike Lowry and his office went through sensitivity training. That training was ineffective,” Gaston said.
The women’s groups are analyzing Theiler’s conclusion that Lowry’s behavior, while objectionable, wasn’t illegal.
The Washington State Human Rights Commission defines sexual harassment as “unwanted and unwelcome verbal or physical conduct of a sexually related nature.”
It is often hard to determine whether the law has been violated because there are rarely witnesses.
The Lowry case “underscores the gray areas and how complicated it is for men and women to understand the boundaries,” said the law center’s Mangel.
Suggestive remarks, leering, demands for dates and other pressures qualify as harassment only if a victim’s job is jeopardized by refusing the harasser’s advances, or if the activity creates an “intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment,” according to state law.
“In order for it to be illegal, it has to be a pattern or a single act so egregious that a reasonable person would have found it sexually harassing,” Mangel said.
Even if Lowry is never sued over the incidents, women’s groups have lost faith in him, said Marion Moos, one of the founders of Spokane’s NOW chapter.
“I read the report, and it stunned me. Just like in the Clarence Thomas hearings, other women were willing to come forward, and their experiences were discounted,” Moos said.