Gov. Mike Lowry, in the wake of sexual-harassment allegations, vowed Wednesday to change his behavior so no employee ever again feels harassed or offended.
The governor, in a memo to his staff, said, “I am clear on the standard expected of employers and I am clear on what is appropriate - and right - at work. I hereby reiterate that commitment to you.”
Lowry was responding to news coverage of his news conference last Friday, when he said an investigator’s report “clearly, clearly clears me” of sexual harassment allegations. He did not appear contrite and seemed to say his behavior would not change, since he felt he had never done anything inappropriate.
His former deputy press secretary, Susanne Albright, had alleged that Lowry sexually harassed her, touching and rubbing her inappropriately, making lewd comments and making her feel uncomfortable in a variety of ways. Investigator Mary Alice Theiler also reported similar accusations from two former congressional staffers of Lowry’s.
Albright’s attorney, Larry Finegold, said in an interview that he’s unimpressed with the governor’s latest memo and less than convinced that he understands the gravity of his actions.
“Unfortunately, it also comes too late for my client,” he said.
Press Secretary Jordan Dey said Lowry was distressed with media coverage that stressed an unrepentant attitude and played down a few remarks about wanting to ensure that 100 percent of his staffers are comfortable around him.
“This issue is too important for my comments to be misperceived,” the governor said in his memo Wednesday.
“As I have repeatedly made clear, there is no acceptable level of offensive or inappropriate conduct in the workplace. No matter how well intended the action or positive the motivation, when employees are made to feel uncomfortable or offended, employers must face the fact that their conduct cannot continue.
“More to the point, we must simply not engage in such conduct in the first place.”
Lowry said he had never intended to offend any past or present employee, “but the fact is, that is not how my actions were always perceived.
“The fact that any employee felt uncomfortable is proof enough for me. I must conduct myself in a manner that prevents this from ever happening again,” he said.
The governor said he will halt actions that have offended some women in the past. He continued to characterize them as innocent behaviors.
“A pat on the knee, a hug or a kiss between old friends or political comrades, or any action that could fairly be perceived as intrusive or personally offensive, cannot and will not occur between me and my employees.”
He noted that he has asked state Personnel Director Dennis Karras to develop better “workplace conduct policies” for the governor’s office and other agencies.
“I want to ensure safe, accessible and effective avenues for reporting and corrective response,” he said.
Albright did not use the office reporting procedure. Theiler said Albright feared being fired or losing a promotion if she confronted Lowry or allowed her supervisors to do so.
“I have learned from this and plan to move forward, not only as an advocate on the issue of workplace conduct, but as a chief executive intent on meeting our obligations to the people of Washington,” Lowry said.
Albright’s lawyer, Finegold, was irritated that Lowry said he was “misperceived” by the press. He noted that the governor has frequently used that word to describe his accusers. The governor is in denial about his problems, the lawyer said.
“His words on Friday speak for themselves,” he said.