Accuser, lawyer for former Idaho state official accused of harassment speak out

Idaho state official accused of harassment.

BOISE -- A former high-ranking state official stepped down from two state jobs over the past few months after a fellow employee accused him of sexual and racial harassment.

We brought you the story of Dan Goicoechea resigning from his post as the deputy of Governmental Affairs with the Idaho State Department of Education on Monday - the same day that an employee filed a tort claim alleging the harassment.

On Friday, KTVB spoke with the woman making those claims, Lourdes Matsumoto, as well as Goicoechea's attorney, who says Matsumoto's claims have no backing.

"He's not a sexist and he's definitely not a racist," Goicoechea's attorney Rory Jones told KTVB. "This is a bare bones claim and it's not going to stand up to the light of scrutiny."

Goicoechea was with the State Department of Education for just about a month after stepping down from his role as Chief of Staff for Idaho State Controller Brandon Woolf. He resigned from the controller's office in August after being investigated for the alleged harassment laid out in the tort claim filed by a woman who used to work under him.

You can read the full tort claim in this story KTVB published on Thursday.

"It's my way - in order to protect the people I think need protecting - it's my way of standing up and saying this is a problem. This letter, this notice of claim, is to let the state know this is a problem and you need to fix it," Matsumoto told KTVB.

Matsumoto started working as executive assistant and deputy legal counsel for the Office of the Controller in August 2016. 

She alleges Goicoechea, her supervisor, was inappropriate early on and often. She claims the higher-ups in the office ignored or even encouraged his behavior.

"I was surprised, shocked in the beginning but it wasn't just in conversations with me. He would say these things in a room with other managers. Other people definitely heard him. Everyone would kind of laugh along and chuckle," Matsumoto said. "You kind of had to laugh about his jokes or you kind of had to be OK with it, otherwise he would make your life miserable. He would threaten to fire people all the time."

Racial and sexual comments were made to her, about her, and about others, she claims.

"I just kind of felt stuck and I decided that I would just do the only thing I could do and just take note every time I was offended. And I started keeping a log of incidences," Matsumoto added.

She says the situation came to a head in July after Goicoechea became angry that she had informed him and Woolf separately about a request from the Department of Labor. Matsumoto said she was angrily confronted by the Chief of Staff in a way that made her feel threatened.

So she went to the general counsel for the controller's office after the incident, reported Goicoechea's harassment and told him she wanted to resign. She tells KTVB the attorney, Brian Benjamin, told her Goicoechea had been accused of harassment before and asked her to remain an employee pending an investigation. 

Matsumoto alleges Goicoechea restricted her access to her email, canceled her projects, and spoke to her coworkers, threatening to get them fired if they backed up her claims.

Matsumoto said she was placed on leave after the investigation began and then finally resigned on July 20.

"It wasn't just about me, and it's not just about me. This is the whole office: men, women, people of color," she added.

Once the investigation was closed, the state controller's office says Goicoechea was asked to resign.

"But that should not be interpreted as an admission to any of these flights of fancy that Ms. Matsumoto has come up with," Jones told KTVB. "She's a lawyer, she's skilled and she knows what she needs to say in order to try to get a payday. That doesn't mean one thing about whether any of it is true."

His resignation was officially effective Aug. 11 - four days before he started at the Department of Education - but Goicoechea was actually out of the office before that date, according to officials.

"He's twice done the stand up thing: first he protected the controller by resigning when this first surfaced and found another job in state government that paid a little over half what his previous job did. And then the second he found out that there might be some carry-over from this to the Superintendent of Public Instruction, he resigned from that job too. So he's twice been the good soldier and protected Idaho state government and his superiors," Jones added.

Jones alleges Ms. Matsumoto is after money.

"That's not what happened. What has happened is little nuggets of partial truth have been embellished into great big stories to try to get a payday," Jones said.

He says when independent witnesses come forward, a whole new story will come to light.

"With Mr. Goicoechea no longer there, nobody is beholden to him. They're only beholden to the truth," Jones said.

"Mr. Goicoechea wouldn't have gotten to where he was if he treated people like that and he doesn't," Jones added. "People need to keep an open mind. It's easy to say things, it's much harder to prove them. He should not be judged in the court of public opinion yet."

In a statement to KTVB, the Office of the Controller said the following:

"The Office of the State Controller (SCO) denies the allegations in the tort claim filing, and specifically denies any allegations that it “condoned” harassment in any way, and will defend against those allegations vigorously. 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.Ms. Matsumoto first made a complaint of harassment to management about Mr. Goicoechea on July 14, 2017.

"Prior to this date, Ms. Matsumoto did not make her supervisor or management aware of any harassment, nor did she make any formal or informal complaints about Mr. Goicoechea. Once the complaint was made, SCO acted promptly by retaining a private law firm to conduct an investigation into her allegations. This was done to keep the fact finding process independent and unbiased for all parties. Upon the conclusion of SCO’s internal investigation, SCO took effective remedial action. SCO then separated Mr. Goicoechea’s employment with SCO.

"During the course of conducting its investigation and attempts to remediate Ms. Matsumoto’s allegations, she resigned her employment at SCO and refused to participate in SCO’s investigation. The State Controller’s Office complied fully with its legal responsibilities as an employer in this situation and responded promptly to Ms. Matsumoto’s complaint.

"The State Controller acted honorably and took reasonable steps to prevent and correct any alleged harassment claimed by Ms. Matsumoto." 

Matsumoto, who is represented by attorney Lauren Scholnick of the Strindberg and Scholnick law firm, said in the tort that she will drop the claim against the Controller's Office in exchange for the following conditions being met.

- Removal of Goicoechea from a supervisory role in state government

- A total of $191,500 to cover 18 months of her salary and benefits, attorney fees and emotional distress

- A neutral, written employment reference and verbal reference if requested

- Harassment and discrimination training for controller's office employees, with separate training for upper-level managers

- A change in policy for grievances to be sent directly to Woolf, with discrimination or harassment claims to be disclosed to the Attorney General's Office.

If the conditions are not accepted, Matsumoto says she will pursue a discrimination claim. The tort warned officials they had until Sept. 22 at 5 p.m. to accept the offer; however, Scholnick said the state has requested more time, and she agreed to an extension.

"These are the things I feel are what it's going to take in order to show some good faith that the state is trying to remedy this and not just sweep it under the rug," Matsumoto added. "I wanted to open a dialogue. I didn't expect this kind of media attention. It is a scary experience, I feel afraid of the next steps and what's going on."

The Office of the State Controller is represented by the Idaho Office of the Attorney General, which at this point in the legal process tells KTVB they don't have any comment.

KTVB has also filed public records requests with the State Department of Education.

© 2017 KTVB-TV


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