Rules committee investigation: 'Yes, Westlake hugged, grabbed, and flirted' - Must Read Alaska
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Rules committee investigation: ‘Yes, Westlake hugged, grabbed, and flirted’

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The House Rules Committee has released the report by Legislative Human Resources on allegations of sexual harassment of legislative aides by former Rep. Dean Westlake.

The report, completed by Skiff Lobaugh, corroborates the accounts given by women and finds them credible.

Allegation 1 occurred on Jan. 16, 2017, at the fundraiser for the House Democrats that was being held at the Juneau City Museum. Westlake approached a legislative aide who worked for Rep. Scott Kawasaki, grabbed her, and told her that her hair turned him on.

Whether it was a “grab” or a “hug” was ambiguous because a hug for one person is a grab for another, the report said, adding it “can be a matter of opinion between participants.”

Even though Westlake had not yet been sworn in as a legislator, the aide was already an employee of the Legislature, and so the action was included in the report. Lobaugh found the allegation to be credible.

Allegation 2 occurred March 11, 2017, at an art gallery in downtown Juneau. Westlake grabbed the legislative aide by the butt. She relayed the full account in a complaint letter two days later. That allegation was substantiated as well, although it was unclear if his hand had simply slipped. “The difference between the lower back and the butt is a matter of perception, and therefore this allegation is substantiated,” the report says.

For the first time, the public is learning what happened after the complaint was filed. Speaker Bryce Edgmon counseled Westlake, told him his actions were inappropriate and would not be tolerated, and Westlake made no further contact with the aide.

But there were more incidents with other aides.

Allegation 3 occurred when Westlake passed a note to an aide that complimented her on her dress. Later that day he approached her and told her how she looked good in her dress. Westlake explained to Lobaugh that he was just trying to pay her a compliment. The allegation was substantiated but complimenting someone on their attire does not alone fit the definition of hostile work environment or sexual harassment, Lobaugh wrote.

Allegation 4 occurred during June special session, when an aide was delivering per diem checks to lawmakers. Westlake told the aide “how are we supposed to get any work done around here with employees who look like that?” The aide felt uncomfortable. That allegation was substantiated. When asked about it by Lobaugh, Westlake admitted that he is a big flirt. Lobaugh wrote that this incident alone did not fit the definition of hostile work environment or sexual harassment.

Although each incident didn’t add up to a hostile work environment or sexual harassment, together they contributed to creating such an environment.

Before Lobaugh could finish his report, however, Westlake had submitted his resignation. Lobaugh never investigated either House Majority Leader Chris Tuck or House Speaker Bryce Edgmon for allowing sexual harassment to continue under their noses.

[Read the complete report here]

“I felt it was important to release the results of the harassment investigation to demonstrate our commitment to transparency and accountability,” said House Rules Committee Chair Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux. “Dean Westlake acted inappropriately towards multiple staffers, and he rightly resigned. This entire incident is just further proof that the Alaska Legislature’s harassment policy is long overdue for an update and that everybody in the legislature, whether they be an elected lawmaker or a staffer, is accountable to the people of Alaska and the people want assurances that the Alaska Legislature takes the issue of harassment seriously.”

As Rules chair, LeDoux is responsible for staff in the House. The report did not delve into the responsibility she had last March when the complaint was made, what she knew and when she knew it. Nor did the investigation explore the role of House Majority Leader Chris Tuck in covering up the harassment complaint.

The complaint wasn’t made public until November when one of the legislative aides took her grievances to a meeting that was livestreamed on Facebook.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

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