Three women accused Mariners executives of inappropriate workplace conduct in 2009-10, a Seattle Times investigation found. And in 2015, camera operators at Safeco Field shot up-close video of two female fans, with the footage compiled in a folder labeled “9-29-15 Blondes.”
In the years before he became president of the Seattle Mariners, Kevin Mather and two other top team executives were accused by women of inappropriate workplace conduct, resulting in the complainants receiving financial settlements, The Seattle Times has learned.
The complaints, which surfaced in 2009-10, roiled the organization internally, triggering reviews and staff-wide sexual-harassment seminars, The Times found after interviewing more than three dozen people who have worked within or around the Mariners organization. Along with Mather, who at the time was executive vice president of finance and ballpark operations, the complaints also involved then-team President Chuck Armstrong and then-Executive Vice President Bob Aylward.
The three women involved left their jobs. All three executives remained in their positions, and two were later promoted.
With the rise of the #MeToo movement, even cases that occurred years ago are receiving new attention and placing increased scrutiny on the culture of organizations and how they handle misconduct allegations.
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For the Mariners, the complaints did not appear to result in any legal finding of wrongdoing by the team or the three executives.
Armstrong and Aylward declined to comment. Mather said in a brief statement that he’s proud of the team’s culture and the contributions women make throughout the organization.
Mariners owner and managing partner John Stanton said in an interview that women play a valuable role with the team and cited a range of important jobs they hold across the organization.
“I think our culture is represented by the way we treat people. And we work hard to do that well,” said Stanton, a minority owner starting in 2000 who became managing partner in 2016. “Certainly, we’re not perfect. But we think that we represent an important role within this community and the way we are perceived is not only important to our business but … it’s bringing your daughter to the ballpark. … We want it to be a family-friendly environment.”
Citing state personnel laws, Stanton declined to answer whether the team has paid settlements or disciplined any executives for misconduct this past decade. A written statement from Mariners legal counsel Fred Rivera stated that after some past misconduct violations, the team on rare occasions has “made financial compensation to employees and exacted financial compensation from employees to remedy these violations.”
(On Wednesday, the Mariners issued a statement acknowledging that Mather had been the subject of two workplace complaints from female employees. The team said that it had “made amends” to the workers. Mather said he’s learned from the mistakes.)
Speaking generally, Stanton said there have been instances in which people were accused of violating team protocols and the Mariners addressed such problems with an investigation. After reaching a conclusion in those cases, Stanton said, the team would potentially remedy a situation by taking action such as reprimands, financial penalties, counseling and in some cases termination.
Armstrong remained president until his retirement in January 2014. Mather was promoted to president in his place and in December 2017 the CEO title was added. Aylward, one of two finalists to succeed Armstrong, became chairman of the team’s ROOT Sports Northwest regional cable network.
Mather had been overseeing the team’s human-resources department before the complaints. That responsibility later was moved to Armstrong’s purview and remained there until his retirement despite the subsequent complaint involving him.
In the wake of initial complaints against Mather and Aylward, the Mariners had a consultant give sexual-harassment-prevention seminars separately to senior management and rank-and-file employees, according to four people with direct knowledge of the matter.
Though it’s difficult to measure the Mariners’ current culture and how the organization treats women, a handful of employees said the team in recent years appeared to be making honest efforts to ensure the appropriate treatment of women in the workplace. Some women said they hadn’t experienced or witnessed any harassment or inappropriate behavior.
But The Times has learned that video personnel at Safeco Field shot, compiled and archived up-close footage of two women sitting in the crowd during a Mariners game in late 2015. The footage, shot by TV cameras stationed throughout the stadium, lingered on one woman with a revealing top and on the other woman when she was briefly exposed after her dress hiked up.
The clips were compiled in a Dropbox folder titled “9-29-15 Blondes.”
The Mariners said the footage was shot by freelance TV camera operators hired by ROOT Sports and/or the visiting team’s television crew, and video appeared to have been taken during commercial breaks. Rivera said the footage was compiled for security purposes, but Randy Adamack, the team’s special adviser to the chairman and CEO, said the camera attention on the women shouldn’t have happened. He added that the team was discussing the issue internally and with ROOT Sports personnel. The Mariners are the majority owner of ROOT Sports Northwest.
The complaints against top Mariners executives first surfaced in 2009.
Seattle lawyer Robin Phillips wrote to the Mariners, outlining complaints by two executive assistants aimed largely at Mather, according to three people with knowledge of the matter. Two of the people said Aylward’s executive assistant complained that Mather had repeatedly rubbed her back and made suggestive comments that made her feel uncomfortable. In interviews with The Times, a former colleague of the woman recalled her taking steps to avoid interactions with Mather, and another recalled her privately expressing frustration at Mather’s interactions.
Confronting sexual harassment and abuseThe #MeToo movement has sparked a national conversation about sexual harassment and assault. From actors in Hollywood to security guards at the Seattle Public Library, more people are coming forward with painful and intimate stories of abuse, casting new light on behavior that for too long has been dealt with in whispers, secret settlements or not at all. So where do we go from here? The Seattle Times' occasional series explores that and other questions as we move forward in this changed landscape.
Read more from the series »
“He had been touching her back and stuff, and she wasn’t very happy about it,” the second colleague said in an interview. The person requested anonymity, fearing retaliation by the team.
Mather’s own executive assistant said he was mean and had made her uncomfortable with inappropriate jokes and comments about female colleagues in her presence, according to two people familiar with the complaint.
While not addressing the allegations specifically, Mather said in a statement Tuesday that he’s proud of the workplace culture of the Mariners.
“I am committed to ensuring that every Mariners employee feels comfortable and respected, and can contribute to our success both on the field and in the community,” Mather said. “Can we do better? Of course.”
In Aylward’s situation, his executive assistant had reported seeing porn on Aylward’s screen after he asked her to help with a frozen computer. While she was helping, pop-up porn images filled his screen, according to two sources.
There were no other complaints about Aylward. But court records show Aylward, while an executive VP with the Mariners in September 2003, had been arrested by Seattle police for patronizing a prostitute. He participated in a pretrial diversion program in which he paid $500 and met other obligations in exchange for the case being dismissed.
In an interview, Aylward would not say whether he told the Mariners about the arrest. The written statement from Mariners legal counsel Rivera said the arrest came to the team’s attention in 2014 — several weeks after Aylward had been a finalist for the president’s job that went to Mather.
Aylward retained his executive VP job. He announced his retirement in November 2017 but is working as a paid adviser. Adamack said Aylward remains the chair of ROOT Sports Northwest.
The two executive assistants — who left their jobs months apart — received financial settlements by early 2010, according to three people with knowledge of the matter. One person said the settlements paid to the two women totaled more than $500,000.
Several months later, another woman came forward with concerns related to her work as a suites manager with the team’s Centerplate Inc. concessionaire at Safeco Field, according to three sources. The woman was represented by Seattle lawyer Arne Hedeen.
The woman said Armstrong had asked her to deliver a bottle of wine to him in his private stadium suite and the two engaged in prolonged kissing, according to one person familiar with the matter. Three sources said the woman complained that she felt pressured to reciprocate Armstrong’s advances because of his power in the organization.
Like the two executive assistants, the woman received a confidential financial settlement, and she had left her job by mid-2011, according to the three people familiar with the matter.
One person with knowledge of what happened said all three women were paid settlements because the team “didn’t want the publicity.”
Some people familiar with the conduct accusations declined interview requests. Others agreed to speak on condition of anonymity because — in some instances — they feared reprisals or weren’t authorized to speak about legal matters.
It’s unclear what percentage of the settlements was covered by the Mariners, their insurance or the executives themselves. Rivera said in some workplace cases, the team has “exacted financial compensation” from employees to remedy misconduct violations.
Officials with the Public Facilities District, which was appointed to safeguard the interest of taxpayers who helped build Safeco Field, said the issue of sexual harassment in the organization has never come up.
“I haven’t heard of anything like that, or seen or heard any legal settlement discussion or anything like that,” said former Seattle Mayor Charles Royer, a facilities district board member since 2008.
The Mariners report minimal financial information to the PFD, showing summary details such as net income, capital expenditures and signing bonuses, according to records released under public-disclosure laws. There are no required disclosures for legal costs or related expenses.
The Mariners’ response
Mather had been responsible for overseeing the team’s human-resources department until shortly after the 2009 allegations surfaced against him. Soon after, the department was placed under Armstrong’s purview.
After the 2010 complaint against Armstrong and subsequent settlement, Armstrong was allowed to continue overseeing the HR department for another 2½ years until his retirement.
Armstrong’s boss, then-Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln, did not return phone calls seeking comment about the complaints or Armstrong’s role after the complaint. Lincoln stepped down as CEO two years ago when Stanton’s group assumed control of the Mariners but he remains on the team’s board as a representative of former majority owner Nintendo of America and its 10 percent holding.
Stanton confirmed he had spoken with Lincoln but added he wasn’t aware of the reasons behind all organizational decisions that occurred — such as Mather being relieved of HR oversight and Armstrong later keeping his. He noted that reorganizations happen in all companies for myriad reasons.
Soon after the initial complaints surfaced about Mather and Aylward, Lincoln ordered the team’s chief legal counsel, Bart Waldman, and HR Senior Vice President Marianne Short to conduct private interviews one by one with female employees, according to two people with knowledge of the matter.
One former employee interviewed said Waldman and Short wanted to know whether she had been harassed or had witnessed inappropriate behavior by “senior level executives” through touching, verbal come-ons or off-color jokes. The employee said she told the pair she had not witnessed such behavior.
Shortly after, on Waldman’s recommendation, Lincoln approved the hiring of workplace consultant J. Tucker Miller, according to a person familiar with the arrangement. A half-dozen former employees said the training was heavily focused on sexual harassment and different from anything they had undergone previously.
Miller’s sessions lasted throughout 2010 and then stopped. She was brought back a few years later to lead what former employees described as a “refresher course” on sexual harassment.
Rivera, the team’s current legal counsel, said he didn’t know specifics about Miller’s hiring but said workplace training efforts within the organization date to at least 1995. He described Miller’s work as focusing on civility in the workplace, anti-harassment and sensitivity. He said similar training is ongoing, but not with that firm.
Footage of female fans
The video footage of the two women attending the Mariners game at Safeco Field was shot in late 2015.
One of the clips focuses for 90 seconds on two women sitting together in the crowd, one of whom is wearing a revealing top with a plunging neckline and no apparent bra underneath. That footage, which appeared to be captured using a high-powered zoom, shows the women chatting with people around them.
Other footage shows two occasions when a woman’s short dress briefly exposed her. In one nine-second clip she stands up, a blanket or coat on her lap slides off, and she’s exposed for a moment before she pulls her dress down. Another clip shows her apparently passed out in her seat, receiving attention from medical personnel. Another 16-second video tracks her as she walks up the stadium stairs, zooming in toward her bare buttocks for several seconds as her dress hikes up.
Confidential support for survivorsIf you have experienced sexual assault and need support, you can call the 24-hour National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (800-656-4673). There is also an online chat option. Survivors in King County can call the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center’s 24-hour Resource Line at 888-99-VOICE (888-998-6423) or visit www.kcsarc.org/gethelp.
The statement from Mariners legal counsel Rivera said stadium security had approached the women early in the game to discuss their clothing, which was in violation of the dress code. Rivera said the second woman was approached by security and paramedics several innings later because she appeared to have passed out.
Rivera said the Mariners’ video coordinator saw the footage being captured by the television cameras, as the feeds are displayed in the team’s video room. He said the video coordinator discussed the footage with Mariners security and created clips to share with them.
The Dropbox folder containing the clips was titled “9-29-15 Blondes.’’ The folder was deleted recently, shortly after The Times conducted an interview with Mariners personnel.
Adamack said the organization has no record of other instances in which similar footage was shot or compiled. He said the team recently had discussions internally and communications with ROOT Sports officials about the footage.
“That shouldn’t have happened,” Adamack said of the camera attention on the women. He said the name of the Dropbox folder was “unfortunate” and added that such footage generally shouldn’t be compiled and distributed the way it was after the 2015 incident.
“We don’t think that should happen again unless there are specific security issues involved,” Adamack said.
Women in leadership
Stanton touted the leadership role of women in the organization, including Senior Vice President (sales) Frances Traisman and Vice President (human resources) Lisa Winsby. Major League Baseball averages 2.6 female vice presidents per team, according to a 2018 report by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.
Other notable women in the Mariners organization, Stanton said, include Public Information Director Rebecca Hale, High Performance Director Lorena Martin, Senior Manager (baseball information) Kelly Munro and the lone full-time female scout for a major-league team, Amanda Hopkins.
Of the 14 people listed on the Mariners’ website at the top of the organization — on the board or in an executive role — the only woman is the executive assistant for the leaders.
Hale said in an interview that she has never had negative interactions with executives and feels she has always been treated professionally.
“I certainly would not have stayed for 20 years at this organization if I thought that it was not a welcoming place,” she said.
As for the allegations against team executives, Stanton said he didn’t see why possible issues almost a decade ago would reflect on the current organization. And he said the team takes seriously any allegation that arises.
“Where there have been inappropriate things done, where there’s been misconduct, we also try to learn from it,” he said. “In terms of, ‘How can we improve our training? How can we be clear with people?’
“ … We work very hard to treat every employee with respect.”