The review by the Legislative Ethics Board stemmed from an investigation that concluded that David Sawyer violated workplace rules by making inappropriate and offensive comments that were sexual in nature toward some legislative staffers.
OLYMPIA — The Washington state Legislative Ethics Board on Tuesday determined that former Rep. David Sawyer likely misused state resources when he discussed harassment allegations against him with multiple staffers during working and nonworking hours.
The board’s report found that on several occasions, Sawyer occupied considerable portions of staffers’ time, which could have been used for legislative work, using them as a “sounding board” for incoming allegations and the accompanying media coverage.
“Under no circumstances could [Sawyer’s] actions be considered part of his ‘official duties’ as a legislator,” according to the report. The report dismissed a separate allegation that Sawyer may have inappropriately used his position in office, saying that state law wasn’t clear enough to draw a conclusion.
For the violation, Sawyer has agreed to pay a $1,000 civil penalty. But in a statement, the former lawmaker pushed back against the report’s findings.
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“Disputing the inaccurate findings would prove to be a waste of state resources given most findings are related to the dismissed portion of the complaint,” Sawyer said in the statement. “Throughout this process I have had no real ability to defend myself and there is no way to fight the findings without any basic rights for due process in a hearing or investigation.”
The board’s review stemmed from an investigation last year that concluded that Sawyer violated workplace rules. That report documented the legislator making inappropriate and offensive comments that were sexual in nature toward some legislative staffers on the basis of their gender or sexual orientation, which created an intimidating work environment.
First elected to the state House in 2012, Sawyer lost in the August 2018 top-two primary. Rep. Melanie Morgan, D-Parkland, won the seat in the November general election. Before the primary, Sawyer had already lost his committee chairmanship in the wake of the investigation and faced possible expulsion from the Legislature if re-elected.
Just months after his primary defeat, Sawyer registered as a lobbyist for the firm Arrow Consulting, according to The Associated Press. His only listed client currently is The Gallery Glass & Wares, the operator of marijuana stores in Fife, Puyallup, Spanaway and Tacoma, according to records from the state Public Disclosure Commission.
The board’s report released Tuesday, which uses pseudonyms to identify the women, outlines some of Sawyer’s interactions with staffers that surfaced after the rise of the #MeToo movement in autumn 2017.
On Nov. 1, Democratic House Majority Leader Rep. Pat Sullivan of Covington sent an email to all House Democratic staff emphasizing that harassment of House staffers would not be tolerated, according to the report.
That email, along with the #MeToo movement, prompted one woman mentioned in the Legislative Ethics Board report to speak to House Counsel that next day about alleged misconduct by Sawyer.
Responding to that woman’s concerns, Sullivan, along with Chief Clerk Bernard Dean and House Counsel met with Sawyer in his Tacoma office Nov. 6. They told the legislator that his actions concerning that staffer were inappropriate and explained the power dynamic that exists between a lawmaker and staff.
In another instance in late 2017, Sawyer spoke for nearly an hour by phone after work with a different female staffer, discussing an investigation underway by The News Tribune, The Olympian and public radio’s Northwest News Network into complaints about his behavior. She did not want to lose her job, so she continued to “put up with [Sawyer] calling her, texting her and spending time with him both during the workday and after hours listening to his personal issues,” according to the board’s findings.
While a third female staffer was working in February 2018, Sawyer took her into an empty office and detailed his sex life to her, according to the board report. She was uncomfortable with the conversation, telling Sawyer that it was “not her job to deal with his personal issues.” The topic of his alleged harassment went on to dominate their future conversations.
Later that month, one of the women came to another’s office in tears because Sawyer had taken up so much of her time discussing his personal issues with her, according to the report.
Tuesday’s review comes as the House continues work on strengthening its processes to receive and investigate complaints of inappropriate workplace behavior.
An internal House work group geared toward preventing sexual harassment last month made a series of recommendations to improve the workplace culture. Those recommendations included approving a new code of conduct — which House members did this month — as well as boosting training and establishing an independent office to review and investigate complaints.
The state Senate last summer approved its own changes to workplace policies and the creation of a human-resources position to receive and review complaints.
Seattle Times staff reporter Joseph O’Sullivan contributed to this report.