A report said Commissioner Dale Peinecke would put his arm around staffers and looked at women in a way that made them uncomfortable. Gov. Jay Inslee said he accepted his resignation and is reviewing the investigation’s findings.
OLYMPIA — The head of the Washington state Employment Security Department has resigned after an investigation into allegations that his behavior made some employees uncomfortable.
The report, released Thursday, included interviews with 10 people who said Commissioner Dale Peinecke would put his arm around staffers or look at women in a way that made them uneasy.
“On the elevator, in the hallway, in offices, or in meetings, Mr. Peinecke’s eyes start at a woman’s breasts and then move up to her eyes, and then back down, constantly checking her out,” according to one person detailed in the report.
“When managers/supervisors know that Mr. Peinecke is going to be around, we remind each other to wear turtlenecks, scarves, or loosefitting clothing,” that person added.
Most Read Local Stories
- Coronavirus daily news updates, November 25: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world VIEW
- Inslee: As coronavirus hospitalizations increase, Washington could face 'catastrophic loss of medical care'
- Households, workplaces and social gatherings most likely to spread coronavirus in King County, report says
- What’s next for the Elephant Car Wash’s neon pink sign now that it’s left Denny Way VIEW
- Coronavirus daily news updates, November 24: What to know today about COVID-19 in the Seattle area, Washington state and the world VIEW
Peinecke’s resignation, first announced by Gov. Jay Inslee’s office, stems from one of a series of investigations or harassment claims that have emerged in Olympia over the past year.
Last year, the director of the Washington State Lottery stepped down after an investigation detailed inappropriate work behavior. Earlier this year, a former division manager of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife was found guilty of second-degree rape of a fellow employee.
Since the nationwide #MeToo movement gained steam last fall, several women have stepped forward with stories of harassment or inappropriate behavior by current or former state lawmakers.
In a statement Thursday, Peinecke wrote that the department has “reviewed the concerns expressed by some ESD employees and are taking them seriously.”
“In light of recent events touching on workplace issues, I’d like to reaffirm how important it is to the executive team and me that employees at the Employment Security Department feel that they are treated with fairness and respect,” Peinecke said in the statement.
Thursday afternoon, Inslee said that Peinecke “did not comport himself in a way that allowed people to be comfortable on the job.”
“And that’s not acceptable in our state government,” he added.
The governor’s office had been reviewing the final report on Peinecke. Inslee said he hadn’t asked the commissioner to resign, but “we were headed in that direction quite quickly.”
Inslee also called the situation “disappointing because there were a lot of very positive things that happened in this department during his term.”
While Peinecke in his letter said he intended to stay through June 30, the governor’s office is quickly searching for a replacement.
Inslee spokeswoman Jaime Smith said a replacement would be found “in a matter of a couple weeks, not a couple months.”
In a two-page resignation letter to Inslee, Peinecke provided a bullet-point list describing his accomplishments, but made no mention of the allegations against him.
The Employment Security Department news release announcing Peinecke’s departure mentioned “a recent external investigation into workplace issues” but did not state that it involved the commissioner.
Inslee appointed Peinecke in January 2013 to lead the department, which among other things administers unemployment benefits and offers job training.
Peinecke’s annual salary is $162,240, and he is eligible for a pension.
Before coming to the Employment Security Department, Peinecke had spent decades in the aerospace and materials industries, according to the department’s website.
The 13-page investigation report also includes statements by six people who rebutted the harassment allegations.
But, “I have noticed that some people are uncomfortable around Mr. Peinecke and seem to be put off by his mannerisms,” one of those people said, according to the report.
In a response to the report, Peinecke said he couldn’t “recall doing anything that would intentionally make someone feel uncomfortable in the ESD workplace.”
“My team and I have worked hard at employee engagement, at creating a respectful and diverse workplace, as evidenced by our recent employee engagement scores,” Peinecke said. “I would not purposefully take any action to undermine this accomplishment.”