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People In Power Must Set Example

Sun., March 26, 1995

Washington Gov. Mike Lowry won a small battle when an independent investigator concluded last week that a jury probably wouldn’t convict him of sexual harassment.

But he may have lost the public-opinion war.

Investigator Mary Alice Theiler said Lowry was responsible “for conduct which distressed and offended a valuable employee,” although she found no clear pattern of harassment toward former aide Susanne Albright.

Theiler, who was appointed by the governor, emphasized: “This report does not clear Mike Lowry.”

In fact, statements by ex-staffers indicate Lowry may have a history of sexual intimidation. Excuses that his assorted pats and hugs were misinterpreted don’t fly.

A veteran politician who has championed women’s rights should know where huggy-bear gregariousness ends and inappropriate behavior begins.

People in power - from business owners to hospital administrators, from used-car dealers to newspaper editors, from county commissioners to the governor - should model how coworkers treat each other. Conversely, employees shouldn’t allow themselves to be bullied into silence by ideology, job concerns, or other workers.

No one knows what went on between Lowry and Albright. Among other things, she claims he touched her legs, neck and breasts numerous times and her buttocks once; he denies those accusations. But Lowry’s reported behavior as a congressman casts a long shadow.

One congressional staffer told the investigator that Lowry kissed her in a sexual way and touched her breasts. Another said he kissed her on the mouth, gave her extra-long waist hugs and rubbed her legs. The incidents were swept away under an unwritten policy of “silent accommodation.”

As a result, Albright became a victim, too.

Before joining Lowry’s staff, Albright was considered a top-notch reporter and a Lowry admirer. (Theiler labels her a “credible person.”) Yet, a short while later, she began complaining about Lowry’s behavior but begged friends and supervisors not to tell him about it. She worried about her career, but also wanted to leave.

Last week, Albright’s ambivalence played itself out tragically as she attempted suicide.

Inappropriate behavior, particularly of a powerful boss toward an employee, has consequences. Lowry harmed Albright and damaged his own credibility.

This sad case should warn us all.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = D.F. Oliveria/For the editorial board

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