Gov. Mike Lowry has agreed to pay $97,500 to a former aide who accused him of repeated sexual harassment. The out-of-court settlement with former deputy press secretary Susanne Albright, 38, was signed this afternoon.
In the agreement, which was made public, Lowry admits no wrongdoing. Albright agreed not to pursue legal action against Lowry.
"I don't feel that I need to be vindicated," Albright said. "But that's a lot of money, and it's a pretty clear legal indication that this was more than a pat on the back."
The money will be paid by Lowry personally, not from state funds.
"These are the personal actions of Mike Lowry, and I didn't think it would be fair for the people to pay for it," she said. "And to come from him, it means more to me."
She said she agreed to the settlement only after the governor's office instituted a new policy for investigating future harassment complaints as a result of the case.
Lowry spokesman Martin Munguia today said Lowry feels good about the settlement. "He feels the actions he will be taking brings some semblance of peace and resolution to this whole issue," Munguia said. He had no comment on why Lowry settled rather than fight allegations he says are untrue.
The settlement left officials of Lowry's Democratic party openly questioning his political future.
"It's devastating for his re-election," said Paul Berendt, chairman of the state Democratic party. "It's going to create
another frenzy of talk. Whether it's an admission of guilt or not, people will be pointing their fingers and saying, `There, he settled.' "
Even while other Democrats have been openly critical of Lowry, Berendt had remained a strong defender of the governor.
Albright had worked as a $48,000-a-year deputy press secretary for more than a year before abruptly leaving her job in November.
She said later that she had been the victim of a pattern of sexual misconduct by Lowry. She said that included inappropriate touching, groping and lewd comments.
Her allegations became public after reporters were tipped off about correspondence between her attorney and Lowry's office.
In January, Lowry took the unusual step of appointing Seattle attorney Mary Alice Theiler to investigate the allegations. In a 51-page report released in March, Theiler concluded that a jury likely wouldn't have found Lowry guilty of violating sexual harassment laws.
But Theiler, in response to Lowry's initial assertion that he had been totally vindicated, later said Lowry's behavior had clearly offended Albright and other women.
Lowry has consistently denied he did anything wrong, saying Albright and others misinterpreted his friendly nature that often included hugs, pats and kisses for employees.
Two other women, both of whom worked for Lowry when he represented the Seattle area in Congress, also told Theiler they had been subjected to harassment by Lowry.
But Theiler said she did not pursue those allegations, saying those were not part of Albright's case.
Theiler also decided not to talk to a state patrol employee, Becky Miner, who last year said she had been inappropriately touched by the governor while fingerprinting him for a security clearance. State attorneys working on Lowry's behalf concluded Miner's allegations could not be corroborated.
After Albright found out about Miner's allegations and the results of the investigation, she said she became so upset she went on medical leave and retained an attorney.
Albright today was sharply critical of Theiler's findings, saying they downplayed the importance of what happened by her by placing several incidents out of context and giving no weight to what the other women told Theiler about Lowry's behavior.
"The investigation was a way to not take what I said seriously," said Albright. Theiler, she added, ". . .was judge, jury and investigator, and you can't do that.
After Theiler's report was issued, Lowry did attend sexual-harassment awareness training at a half-day session in the governor's mansion.
Late last month, Lowry said the personal toll on him and his family had led him to question whether he would run for a second term.
But Albright, who now works for a Seattle public relations firm, said the case has put her under enormous personal strain as well.
"My whole life has been changed, and $100,000 isn't going to make it go away," she said.
CHRONOLOGY OF LOWRY SEX-HARASSMENT ALLEGATIONS ---------------------------------------------
Here is a chronology of events related to sexual-harassment complaints against Gov. Mike Lowry:
March 29, 1994: State Patrol fingerprint technician Becky Miner says Lowry inappropriately touched her in a sexual way while she was fingerprinting him for a White House security clearance.
April 18: Governor's office asks Attorney General Christine Gregoire to review the case. She agrees, acting as legal adviser to Lowry, not as an independent investigator.
May 16: A state lawyer and investigator complete the review and say they can't prove or disprove the allegation. Gregoire recommends sexual-harassment sensitivity training for Lowry and his staff.
Sept. 9: Lowry attends sexual-harassment training.
Nov. 18: Miner's case becomes public after anonymous tips lead reporters to ask for information.
Dec. 1: Seattle Attorney Larry Finegold writes to Lowry saying he represents Deputy Press Secretary Susanne Albright, who he says has gone on medical leave because of the governor's conduct.
Jan. 17, 1995: Lowry's chief lawyer, Jenny Durkan, writes to Chief Deputy Attorney General Kathleen Mix: "We do not believe any claim will be filed against the state, the governor, or any other employee of our office. The employee involved and her representatives have told us that she does not wish to file a lawsuit and she has consistently declined to make a complaint under our office policy."
Jan. 19: Seattle attorney Mary Alice Theiler is appointed by Lowry's office to investigate Albright's claim against the governor.
Feb. 3: Lowry's office releases documents relating to Albright's resignation. She and her attorney confirm that she alleges Lowry sexually harassed her.
Feb. 14: At a news conference, Lowry vehemently denies he has been unfaithful to his wife or has a drinking problem.
March 23: Theiler's investigative report is released to reporters.
July 14: Lowry agrees to pay Albright $97,500 in exchange for her pledge not to sue him. He admitted no wrongdoing.