State Politics

Former worker says Idaho harassment settlement is part of national ‘reckoning’

‘No workplace is immune’ to harassment, says former state worker behind tort claim

Lourdes Matsumoto says she was subjected to a variety of sexual and racial harassment and other concerning behavior by a supervisor at the Idaho State Controller's Office. Dec. 8, 2017, a day after announcing her claim against the state was settle
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Lourdes Matsumoto says she was subjected to a variety of sexual and racial harassment and other concerning behavior by a supervisor at the Idaho State Controller's Office. Dec. 8, 2017, a day after announcing her claim against the state was settle

Lourdes Matsumoto’s first job out of law school was with the Idaho State Controller’s Office as deputy legal counsel and executive assistant.

“I did not know what to expect,” she said Friday of the job she started in August 2016. “But I just had a gut feeling all along that this was not right.”

What was not right, she said, was being sexually and racially harassed and discriminated against by one of the office’s top aides, Dan Goicoechea.

Matsumoto first voiced her allegations about Goicoechea to Controller’s Office staff in July. She filed a tort claim against the office in September, making those allegations public.

Then came October, when the #metoo movement exploded across social media and women started to speak more publicly about their experiences with discrimination, with harassment, with assault.

Matsumoto’s statements predated those reports, and the subsequent string of resignations of well-known figures in politics, entertainment and media over their treatment of women.

But she said she hopes now that by coming forward and speaking out, it “can somehow help anyone else who is going through something similar … and empower more people to speak their minds because it is a very scary situation. It is a hard thing to come to grips with and to finally decide to do.”

She also said she wants other victims of harassment or discrimination “to know that you are not alone out there. That is really important and it is something I have really appreciated in all of this.”

Attorney claims his client entrapped

Matsumoto’s comments Friday came one day after news that she’d reached a settlement with the state. That means her claims will not reach court, where Goicoechea’s attorney, Rory Jones, previously told the Statesman that witnesses would paint “a much different picture … of what happened here.”

On July 14, Matsumoto filed a complaint about Goicoechea’s behavior with the Controller’s Office. A week later, she resigned.

Following an internal investigation, Goicoechea, who was chief of staff, was given the option to also resign. He did so on Aug. 11 and immediately went to work at the State Department of Education as deputy for governmental affairs. He left that job on Sept. 18, the same day Matsumoto filed the tort claim against the Controller’s Office.

Jones said Friday that even though his client “completely disagrees with the things” Matsumoto claimed, he has no intention of taking legal action against her or the Controller’s Office. Jones noted that Goicoechea had no say in the state’s decision to settle the claim, nor the settlement terms.

He alleged that Matsumoto entrapped Goicoechea, and argued the “case was as thin as Dickens’ gruel” and Matsumoto would have lost in court.

“She is a lawyer. She is smart. She worked the system,” he said, alleging that it was Matsumoto who initiated many of the conservations she cited as inappropriate in her claim. “She was planting the seeds for this thing for a long time. When she finally thought she had enough, she made a cash grab and she took it.”

Matsumoto’s attorney, Lauren Scholnick, denied “100 percent” that her client entrapped Goicoechea. She said Jones was “trying to tap into the old way of looking at these claims” — arguing a victim shares the blame for any wrongdoing.

“That defense has worn thin,” Scholnick said. “He is just saying somehow my client had a machination to make money on Mr. Goicoechea’s despicable acts and statements of a sexual, racist nature. She was under siege. It took this petite person of small stature … to actually stand up to a very powerful person and her boss. And to denigrate her in this moment is pathetic.”

More settlement details

Under the settlement agreement, the Controller’s Office will pay Matsumoto $83,000, require all its employees go through training on sexual harassment and discrimination, and revise its employee grievance process. The office did not admit liability. But in a Thursday statement, Controller Brandon Woolf said any “behavior that makes anyone uncomfortable is not acceptable,” and that the responsibility for his agency’s work environment “ultimately rests with me.”

Additionally, Goicoechea is banned from working for the Controller’s Office for five years. If he does return to that office, it cannot be in a supervisory role. Nothing bars him from working at other state agencies.

Matsumoto also agreed not to pursue further legal action against the state or against Goicoechea.

In her case, Matsumoto said, “the problem came down to an individual. He is not there now. The employer has done the right thing.”

She said she has not received a personal apology from Goicoechea.

“I do not wish him any ill will,” she said. “I hope it has been a learning experience for him as well.”

Matsumoto now works for a private law firm in the Treasure Valley.

She said she hopes her case and the many other sexual harassment and discrimination cases now being reported across the nation send a clear message:

“This is a change. This is a reckoning. This behavior is not tolerated anymore. You cannot hide behind a good-old-boys standard. You cannot justify this as jokes. Not ‘I did not mean it’ or ‘Women are the weaker sex.’ None of that is OK. It is not justifiable anymore and it is not going to be tolerated.

“We are standing together as a community, as a society. It is not just women and the men that support women. The minorities that have their own discrimination issues. The environment is changing in the country and it is only going to go one way from here on out. You cannot put it back in the box.”

Cynthia Sewell: 208-377-6428, @CynthiaSewell

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