Washington Employment Security Department Commissioner Dale Peinecke is resigning following a workplace investigation into allegations he behaved inappropriately toward women on his staff.
In a statement Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee said the findings of that investigation are under review and that Peinecke “was making the right decision” to resign. However, it was not immediately clear when the resignation would be effective.
The investigation by D Diamond Consulting, a copy of which public radio obtained through a public records request, concluded that Peinecke made some female employees uncomfortable by putting his arm around them. The investigation also found that Peinecke was “vulnerable to claims” of sexual harassment based on allegations from several women that he looked them up and down or stared at their breasts.
The findings, dated February 6, 2018, were based on the investigator’s interviews with ten Employment Security Department employees who described experiencing or witnessing behavior by Peinecke that they felt was inappropriate. One woman said she had felt sexually harassed by Peinecke on several occasions and told investigators that he “has roving eyes and stares at women’s breasts.”
Another woman said she was warned when she went to work at the department that Peinecke lacked personal boundaries. Later, she said she experienced Peinecke sizing her up physically or looking at her chest rather than her face.
A third woman said she had two “nerve-wracking” encounters with Peinecke in the elevator and that after that she “tried to stay away from his creepy vibe.”
Most of the women told investigators they were not comfortable saying anything to Peinecke or reporting his behavior because of his position as the head of the agency.
Four other employees defended Peinecke’s conduct as “outgoing and friendly” but not inappropriate.
Another witness, believed to be the agency’s human resources director, told investigators that Peinecke was counseled during his first year on the job not to hug subordinates.
For his part, Peinecke told investigators that he is “outgoing and gregarious,” but didn’t recall any behavior that would intentionally make someone uncomfortable. He also said he didn’t recall being counseled by the human resources director.
Peinecke did admit to hugging and putting his arm around employees “in a collegial” way, but said in doing so he was acting like a coach giving a player a physical affirmation that “I am appreciative of what you are doing.”
As for the suggestion that he looked women up and down or stared at their breasts, Peineke told investigators he was “dumbfounded” and that if he was doing that it was “not a conscious behavior.”
He said he might look at someone’s chest in search of their nametag in order to recall a name.
The investigation followed complaints filed last November with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and in December with Washington’s Human Rights Commission.
In those complaints, a veteran employee of Employment Security, who was also interviewed by the state’s outside investigator, said she was the victim of age discrimination after her manager position was eliminated and she was demoted in 2017. The EEOC complaint also said she was a victim of sexual harassment and detailed an incident in January 2016 when the woman was presenting to a group of division heads at Employment Security and Peinecke approached her and put his arm around her.
A photograph of that moment was later posted on the agency’s internal website and the woman said it led to “insinuations” from other employees that she had a “special relationship” with Peinecke.
In January of this year, the woman filed a lawsuit against the Employment Security Department and Peinecke, a copy of which was obtained by The News Tribune and The Olympian.
Inslee appointed Peinecke to lead Employment Security in January 2013. Prior to that, Peinecke worked in the aerospace and materials industries, according to his biography.
In a press release announcing his departure, Peinecke was credited with addressing a budget crisis and leading efforts to upgrade the agency’s technology and customer service.
Employment Security manages the state’s unemployment insurance program and helps connect job seekers to employers.