Employment agency head, accused of inappropriate conduct, resigns
March 15, 2018 Updated Thu., March 15, 2018 at 10:02 p.m.
OLYMPIA – The head of the state Employment Security Department is resigning just as a report of an investigation into inappropriate workplace behavior is being made public.
Some female employees in the department told investigators that Commissioner Dale Peinecke made them feel uncomfortable by staring at their breasts, inappropriately touching or hugging them, or “undressing me with his eyes,” as one put it.
Peinecke, one of Gov. Jay Inslee’s longest-serving cabinet members, announced he was retiring Thursday, saying it was “time to pass the leadership baton and focus more of my energy on family, friends and others.” The news release announcing his departure does not mention the investigation of complaints by employees.
Inslee accepted the resignation, saying during his tenure as head of Employment Security, the department has led efforts on streamlining government, workplace improvements and reduced barriers to employment for veterans, youth and “all people in search of work.”
But the allegations that Peinecke’s behavior made some employees uncomfortable must be taken seriously, Inslee said: “It appears to have been a consistent pattern.”
An outside investigator was hired late last year to look into a complaint filed by one of the department’s employees who said she has felt sexually harassed by Peinecke, including at a meeting in 2016 after she gave a presentation to a leadership team. She said he came to where she was standing, put his arm around her and pressed his body up against her so her left side was pinned against a file cabinet while he looked down at her breasts.
Peinecke told the investigator he was being encouraging while the management team was reviewing good results.
“I was excited about the outcome and their effort (including hers) and lauding their work,” he said, according to the report. “It was certainly not my intention to make her uncomfortable. It is hard for me to imagine that (she) would feel demeaned, as I was told she claimed, when I was praising her project.”
Other women told the investigator of encounters with Peinecke during which he would slowly look them up and down or stare at their breasts.
“Quite frankly, I have never had a man gawk at me in such an obviously leering way, even in a bar when people are under the influence of alcohol,” another woman reported. “It was as if Mr. Peinecke was undressing me with his eyes.”
But other employees told the investigator Peinecke was “outgoing and friendly” and stands close to people and hugs them “in a collegial way.” One said sometimes when his mind is deep in thought “his gaze seems to freeze for a few minutes,” then he looks up when he starts talking again.
“I do not think Mr. Peinecke has any clue that he is making people uncomfortable by putting his arm around them or staring at them,” the witness said.
Inslee said he became aware of the complaint last month when a draft report from the outside investigator was submitted. Peinecke resigned before his resignation was requested.
“Obviously, we’re concerned,” the governor said. “We want all of our employees to feel comfortable at work.”
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