Ex-Lowry Aides Say Incidents Ignored
Two former aides to then-U.S. Rep. Mike Lowry are distressed that a sexual-harassment investigator “ignored or overlooked” their stories, but they have decided not to sue the governor, their attorney said Monday.
Allegations by the two unnamed women were essentially footnotes in investigator Mary Alice Theiler’s report on her probe of allegations that Gov. Lowry had harassed former deputy press secretary Susanne Albright.
The women felt brushed off by Theiler, said their attorney, Judith Lonnquist.
“They are very disappointed and think she ignored or overlooked the clear evidence of a pattern (of sexual harassment) that their testimony provided,” Lonnquist said in an interview.
“The whole purpose of this endeavor from my clients’ perspective was to get his attention that he has a serious behavior problem that has to stop, that no women should have to work under these conditions.”
In the 51-page report, the two aides are identified only as women who worked closely with Lowry in his Seattle office during his 1978-1988 stint in Congress. Theiler devotes one paragraph to each of them.
“The first woman described being kissed on the lips by him in a manner that she felt was clearly sexual,” Theiler wrote. “She also complained that he touched her in a way that was offensive. She said he rubbed her knee and legs and gave her neck rubs, despite asking him to not do so. On two occasions, he gave her a hug which included touching her breast.”
A friend corroborated the story to Theiler and said that she, too, had been kissed on the mouth by Lowry.
The other aide, said Theiler, told of “extra-long waist hugs and kisses on the mouth. Congressman Lowry also rubbed her on the leg when she would drive him in her car. On one occasion, he gave her a neck rub during which time his hands moved down toward her breast.
“She asked her supervisor to move her office to a more open location and to stop assigning her to drive the congressman,” Theiler said, adding that others confirmed the woman had complained about Lowry’s behavior.
Lowry said he was mystified by the complaints, she wrote.
“He could not reply specifically to the allegations since I did not tell him who they were,” Theiler wrote.
“However, he told me there was a longtime friend who worked in the congressional office who he would greet with a kiss when he returned to Seattle after a few weeks in D.C., and if he made her uncomfortable he did not realize it.”
She said Lowry told her it was “a totally platonic relationship … someone that he supported and admired for admirably meeting difficult family challenges.”
Lowry said he didn’t touch either woman in the manner described, Theiler wrote. He and his wife, Mary, said one of the woman apparently had a job grievance against him, and he later declined to support her for higher party office.
Theiler said two congressional aides Lowry asked her to interview told her they saw nothing inappropriate.
She did nothing further with the two women’s stories.
“My charge was only to address what happened to Ms. Albright and I have not tried, nor would I be able, to determine whether the allegations made by the former employees are valid or whether the conduct constituted sexual harassment,” her report said. “For one thing, a number of years have elapsed since the women were employed by then-Congressman Lowry.”
Theiler missed a golden opportunity, Lonnquist said.
Besides missing the chance to establish a clear pattern of harassment, she said Theiler turned sexual-harassment law on its head by viewing the case from Lowry’s perspective, rather than that of the victim.
Larry Finegold, Albright’s attorney, said much the same thing in an earlier interview.
Lonnquist said she read the 51-page report Saturday.
“I wanted to cry, and then I wanted to kick the cat, and I would never do anything to hurt my cat,” she said. “I was angry.”
The report doesn’t fully disclose her clients’ stories, Lonnquist said, and they have decided not to sue. They are declining interview requests, she said.
“They want to get on with their lives,” Lonnquist said.
“No one was out to ‘get’ the governor. What my clients wanted was to have the behavior stop. It took a great deal of political courage for them to step forward. It was very difficult for them.
“When I read that he said he was vindicated and saw no reason to stop this behavior, I was furious.”
Lonnquist said she had been a longtime Lowry backer but did not support his 1992 bid for governor. The reason: The former aides confided in her that year.
“It was news to me, but not to others in the community,” she said. “I was told he had been confronted by at least one male former staffer, that when he was considering running for governor, … went to his inner circle and asked if there was ‘anything out there that would haunt me?’ he was told this was out there.
“He said ‘Never happened.”’
Louise Fitzgerald, a national expert on harassment and a psychology professor at the University of IllinoisUrbana, agreed with Lonnquist’s analysis of the probe.
“Given the facts I have read, I guess I was a little surprised at the investigator’s call. I have been to court on cases that basically had fewer facts and less dramatic facts than these,” she said in an telephone interview.
“Often, people tend not to harass in front of other people. I suspect that most things take place out of sight of others.”
Theiler’s decision not to look for a pattern was “utter nonsense,” she said.
“That’s part of what you do.”
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