Controller’s office settles claim against Goicoechea

The state controller’s office has settled a sexual harassment and discrimination claim against Dan Goicoechea, a former top assistant to state superintendent Sherri Ybarra.

In the settlement, the controller’s office agreed to pay a cash settlement to Lourdes Matsumoto — an $83,000 sum, the Idaho Statesman reported Thursday. The controller’s office agreed not to rehire Goicoechea, and agreed to provide staff training on harassment and discrimination issues.

The settlement, announced Thursday by Matsumoto’s attorneys, closes a graphic harassment dispute that has embroiled two statewide elected officials — Ybarra and State Controller Brandon Woolf.

Goicoechea was Woolf’s chief of staff until this summer. On July 14, Matsumoto filed a complaint against Goicoechea. Matsumoto, who had worked for Woolf as a deputy legal counsel and executive assistant, said Goicoechea repeatedly made suggestive sexual remarks about female co-workers. Matsumoto also claimed that Woolf condoned the behavior — either by encouraging Goicoechea or doing nothing to discipline him.

Woolf’s office dismissed Goicoechea after an independent investigation — and denied the claim that Woolf condoned Goicoechea’s behavior.

While this dispute was unfolding in the controller’s office, Goicoechea landed a senior job in Ybarra’s State Department of Education. On Aug. 14, Ybarra hired Goicoechea, a longtime political ally, to work as her lead spokesman and director of government affairs. Ybarra knew nothing about Matsumoto’s complaint when she hired Goicoechea, according to an internal SDE email later obtained by Idaho Education News.

Goicoechea lasted barely a month in this high-profile post on Ybarra’s staff.

He abruptly resigned on Sept. 18 — and, at the time, without explanation. However, it quickly became public that Matsumoto had filed a graphic harassment and discrimination tort claim against Goicoechea on Sept. 18. A tort claim is a precursor to a potential civil lawsuit. In this case, the claim was the impetus for the settlement announced Thursday.

In a statement issued Thursday, the controller’s office admitted no liability in the case.

“Our office is embracing the opportunity to improve our trainings, our communication with our employees and in holding people accountable for everyone involved, and it is our hope that a settlement allows all parties to move forward,” Woolf said. “We acknowledge that this has been difficult for everyone involved, and it is our hope that a settlement allows all parties to move forward.”

The SDE had little to say about the settlement.

“The tort claim was filed against Mr. Goicoechea’s previous employer; as a result the superintendent is not privy to the details of the settlement resolving the complaint by that former employer,” SDE spokeswoman Kris Rodine said Thursday.

Matsumoto has scheduled a news conference for Friday morning.

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