State Politics

Top state aide accused of sexual, racial harassment resigned after July investigation

The Idaho Capitol building.
The Idaho Capitol building. Idaho Statesman file

A former Idaho State Controller’s Office employee alleges a supervisor who recently left two state jobs sexually and racially harassed her and discriminated against her. The head of the Controller’s Office let the harassment continue, she says.

In her tort claim filed Monday against the state, Lourdes Matsumoto specifically cites the actions of recently departed Chief of Staff Dan Goicoechea and elected State Controller Brandon Woolf. Matsumoto says she was hired as a deputy legal counsel and executive assistant to Woolf, but claims she was never allowed to serve in a role of counsel and that Woolf ceded his duties — including apparent oversight of her — to Goicoechea.

She lists numerous alleged examples of abusive language and violent acts by Goicoechea, in conversations involving her and/or multiple third parties. She accuses Woolf of either condoning or doing nothing to address that behavior.

A statement Wednesday afternoon from the Controller’s Office denied the claim’s allegations regarding Woolf and that office — specifically “any allegations that it ‘condoned’ harassment in any way.” The office “will defend against those allegations vigorously,” the statement said.

A July 14 harassment complaint from Matsumoto led to an investigation that ended with Goicoechea being given the option to resign. He did so on Aug. 11, Brian Benjamin, general counsel for the Controller’s Office, told the Statesman.

The Controller’s Office claims Matsumoto refused to participate in the investigation. She resigned from her job July 20.

Among Matsumoto’s allegations:

▪  Goicoechea regularly talked about his sexual escapades and made possible sexual advances toward Matsumoto.

▪  Goicoechea made violent threats. In one instance, Matsumoto says Goicoechea made a comment about murdering people if something happened to one of his family members. Matsumoto tried to laugh it off as a joke, but she says Woolf, who was present at the time, told her Goicoechea was serious. Matsumoto also says Goicoechea carried a firearm to work and on several occasions showed it to her “to further threaten and intimidate her.”

▪  On July 14, one week before she resigned and the day the harassment complaint was filed, Matsumoto said Goicoechea admonished her in a tense conversation for telling Woolf about a Department of Labor request to visit the controller’s office. According to the claim, “His face was red, his body posture was tense, his hands were clenched into fists, he leaned menacingly towards Ms. Matsumoto … and said, ‘You need to shut the (expletive) up and say ‘Yes, sir’ to me.’”

A tort claim serves as the precursor to a possible lawsuit. Idaho statute gives the state 90 days to respond to the claim, either affirming or denying it.

The document says Matsumoto will release her claim if Goicoechea is removed from any supervisory role in state government, all Controller’s Office employees undergo harassment and discrimination training, the Controller’s Office changes its approach to handling internal grievances and harassment reports, and she receives a lump sum payment of $191,500. All of this would have to happen by this Friday, Sept. 22.

Matsumoto’s attorney is Lauren Scholnick with Strindberg and Scholnick. That is the same law firm that represented Idaho State Police employee Brandon Eller and former Idaho Transportation Department Director Pam Lowe in their successful whistleblower claims against the state.

The statement from the Controller’s Office claims Matsumoto made no mention of harassment before the July 14 complaint, nor filed any other “formal or informal” complaints about Goicoechea. The office hired an outside law firm for the investigation “to keep the fact finding process independent and unbiased for all parties,” the statement said.

“Controller Woolf has respectful workplace and anti-discriminatory harassment policies in place, including mechanisms for reporting any alleged harassment, allegations will be promptly investigated, and any necessary remedial action will be taken. ... The State Controller acted honorably and took reasonable steps to prevent and correct any alleged harassment claimed by Ms. Matsumoto,” the statement said.

Goicoechea resigned on a Friday. On the following Monday, Aug. 14, Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra announced Goicoechea’s new role as deputy for governmental affairs for the State Department of Education.

Goicoechea then resigned from the Department of Education this Monday, Sept. 18, the same day Matsumoto filed her claim.

Ybarra declined comment on the tort claim Wednesday, with spokeswoman Allison Westfall calling Goicoechea’s departure this week “a confidential personnel matter.”

The Statesman has also reached out to Goicoechea for comment.

Cynthia Sewell: 208-377-6428, @CynthiaSewell