BOISE -- A former high-ranking official in the Idaho State Controller's Office resigned from two state jobs after being accused of sexually and racially harassing an employee.
Dan Goicoechea, the former Chief of Staff for Controller Brandon Woolf, stepped down from his post as the State Department of Education spokesman Monday, the same day a tort claim was filed against him by a former employee.
He had been in the position barely a month, having left the Chief of Staff job after a previously-undisclosed investigation into the alleged harassment in July. Goicoechea previously worked at KTVB as a photographer for several years in the 1980's.
In the tort claim, Meridian resident Lourdes Matsumoto recounts a long pattern of harassment and inappropriate behavior from Goicoechea, who she worked under in the Controller's Office as deputy legal counsel/executive assistant between Aug. 1, 2016 and July 20, 2017.
"Shortly after starting at the Controller's office, Ms. Matsumoto was horrified to discover what many of her co-workers already knew, that Mr. Goicoechea often demeaned and degraded women and minorities," the tort reads. "What was even more disturbing was that the other men in senior administration, including the Controller himself, encouraged or did nothing to curb Mr. Goicoechea's deeds and sometimes violent acts, thereby condoning it."
In a statement, the Idaho State Controller's Office denied the allegations, in particular the charge that Goicoechea's higher-ups knew about the harassment but failed to act.
Goicoechea often referred to women as "sluts," bragged about his sexual conquests with younger employees and prior employees, and made an agreement with another male state employee to record himself having sex with a woman who worked at the Department of Health and Welfare, Matsumoto alleged.
Matsumoto said Goicoechea also made overtures to her, telling her "you have a great figure and adorable body" and asking her to "pretend we are married." He also frequently made inappropriate remarks about female political figures, she said, including a member of the Idaho Legislature.
"Ms. Matsumoto, along with other female employees, overheard these vulgarities and understood that neither Mr. Goicoechea nor the male administrators in the office that laughed along with him regarded the women they worked with as professionals, only as sexual objects," the claim reads.
Goicoechea also made disparaging comments about people of other races, the tort alleges, proclaiming that "Orientals and Chinamen" were a threat to national security and telling a bearded employee that he "better shave if they start rounding up the Arabs."
The discrimination was not limited to just a few minority groups, Matsumoto said.
"While discussing his own children, Mr. Goicoechea said 'I'm starting to sound like a black guy now by saying 'my baby's mama,'" the tort reads. "Mr. Goicoechea also criticized an African-American participant in a reality TV show by saying 'His name was like Samdarrellrick, he's named after his fathers.' Mr Goicoechea said this in front of Mr. Woolf, who instead of reprimanding him, just laughed."
Matsumoto also accused Goicoechea of violent outbursts at work, saying swore at employees, pounded his fists on desks and counters, and once punched a hole in the office wall.
The Chief of Staff minimized hitting the wall, telling management "that is how I get when I'm angry" and recounting how he and others would "shoot a certain wall" when he was upset in his former job as a police officer, according to the tort. Matsumoto said Goicoechea was not disciplined for the incident; instead, employees moved a painting to cover up the hole in the wall.
According to the tort claim, the situation came to a head in July, after Goicoechea became angry that Matsumoto 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.
"His face was red, his body posture was tense, his hands were clenched into fists, he leaned menacingly towards Ms. Matsumoto pointing down at her and said 'You need to shut the [expletive] up and say 'yes sir' to me You don't know what's going on in my brain when my voice gets like this. You say 'yes sir,'" according to the tort claim.
According to her lawyers, Matsumoto went to the general counsel for the controller's office after the confrontation, reported Goicoechea's harassment and told him she wanted to resign. The attorney, Brian Benjamin, told her Goicoechea had been accused of harassment before, according to the tort, and asked her to remain an employee pending an investigation.
Matsumoto said that after she was placed on leave after reporting the harassment, although Goicoechea remained in the office. According to the tort, Goicoechea restricted her access to her email, canceled her projects, and spoke to Matsumoto's coworkers, threatening to get them fired if they backed up her harassment claim.
"Fearing further retaliation by Mr. Goicoechea and possibly physical violence given his prior behavior, Ms. Matsumoto was forced to resign on July 20, 2017," the tort reads.
According to the Controller's Office, Goicoechea was asked to resign following the harassment investigation. 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.
The office's statement is included below:
"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.