OLYMPIA — Dale Peinecke, leader of the state Employment Security Department since 2013, announced his resignation Thursday following an outside investigation in which several women employees complained that his workplace behavior was creepy, inappropriate and sexually harassing.
Peinecke, in a statement, said he planned to retire in June though Gov. Jay Inslee told reporters Thursday the commissioner’s departure “will be faster than that.”
Inslee called it “the right decision” and made clear it was Peinecke’s choice.
“I had not yet requested his resignation. We were heading in that direction quite quickly,” Inslee said. “Obviously we don’t want to see any of our employees in a discomforting position and that appears to have happened.”
Peinecke is a former chairman of the Workforce Development Council of Snohomish County. He was president and chief executive officer of an Everett aerospace supplier when he signed on to lead the Employment Security Department. He was one of the governor’s first cabinet appointees.
Since taking the helm, Peinecke worked to transform the agency by incorporating lean management practices, updating technology and developing and deploying career-building initiatives.
In December, a 59-year-old woman employee filed a complaint alleging Peinecke sexually harassed her at a staff meeting in January 2016. She said he put his arm around her neck and pressed her against him while addressing other workers. She alleged Peinecke interacted in similar ways with other women employees.
This prompted the department to hire Deborah Diamond, of D Diamond Consulting, to conduct an external investigation. She completed a draft in February and the final report went to the governor Wednesday.
In it, several women complained Peinecke routinely put his arm around their shoulders without their permission and looked at their bodies in ways that made them uncomfortable.
Diamond interviewed 16 people, of which 10 either had such experiences with Peinecke or witnessed similar interactions with co-workers.
One woman said she had two “nerve-wracking encounters” in the elevator in which she said he was “obviously staring down at my chest.”
“It was the general consensus of me and my co-workers that Mr. Peinecke is an extremely creepy dude in the way that he stares at women’s chests, hugs, and puts his arm around people. His behavior is just not appropriate for someone in that position,” said the woman identified as Witness G in the report.
Another woman, Witness C, thought he had been counseled by the human resources manager about his behavior.
“At first, I believed that Mr. Peinecke was not conscious of his behavior. I am now concerned that this may not be true,” she said. “It seems to me that if Mr. Peinecke wanted to stop, he would.”
Six employees said they were treated with respect and did not witness any inappropriate behavior.
Peinecke told Diamond, “I am outgoing and gregarious, but I cannot recall doing anything that would intentionally make someone feel uncomfortable in the ESD workplace.”
He acknowledged it is “not uncommon” for him to put his arm around or hug men and women nor did he feel he needed to ask permission.
“I do not recall anyone objecting, recoiling, or stepping back, but I imagine if that happened I would immediately disengage,” he said.
And he said he was “dumbfounded that any woman thinks I am staring at her breasts or dressing her down with my eyes. I had no awareness that I was making anyone uncomfortable. I am disturbed and somewhat shocked by this feedback.”
Peinecke was out of town Thursday and unavailable for comment.
But in a statement he said, “We have reviewed the concerns expressed in this investigation and are taking them seriously. As always, this gives us all an opportunity to learn and continuously improve so moving forward we can best show respect for each other as ESD employees.”
Regarding his exit, he said in the same statement, “It’s time to pass the leadership baton and focus more of my energy on family, friends and others. I’m grateful to Gov. Inslee for this opportunity to make a real difference for others.”