Ousted Ybarra spokesman accused of sexual harassment and racial discrimination

(UPDATED, 5 p.m. Wednesday, with a response from the state controller’s office.)

On Monday, the same day Dan Goicoechea resigned his prominent post on state superintendent Sherri Ybarra’s staff, a former colleague at a different state agency filed a tort claim accusing Goicoechea of harassment, physical intimidation and discrimination.

Dan Goicoechea worked in Ybarra’s State Department of Education for barely a month. He was hired on Aug. 14 as Ybarra primary spokesman and deputy of government affairs.

But a graphic tort claim centers on Goicoechea’s previous job as deputy state controller. Lourdes Matsumoto says Goicoechea racially and sexually harassed her and prevented her from serving in the position for which she was hired — deputy legal counsel to the  controller’s office.

Brandon Woolf

The claim further says State Controller Brandon Woolf condoned Goicoechea’s behavior by encouraging him or doing nothing to discipline him.

In a statement released Wednesday afternoon, Woolf’s office denied any wrongdoing.

“The office of the state controller 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.”

Idaho Education News obtained the seven-page tort claim from the Secretary of State’s office. The claim is full of graphic language and explicit sexual descriptions.

Matsumoto alleges Goicoechea harassed women by “remarking on their physical appearance, making vulgar sexual remarks in connection with their lack of abilities in the workplace and making sexual overtures, both directly and indirectly.”

She also alleges Goicoechea assigned women with sexually charged nicknames and boasted about sleeping with different women for political gain.

In another section of the claim, Matsumoto describes an incident where Goicoechea allegedly “was red, his body pressure was tense, his hands were clenched into fists, he leaned menacingly toward Matsumoto pointing down at her and said ‘you need to shut the (expletive deleted) up and say ‘yes sir’ to me. You don’t know what is going on in my brain when my voice gets like this.’”

Goicoechea did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Idaho Education News this week. He has not been charged with a crime or convicted of wrongdoing relating to this case.

A tort claim is a precursor to a possible civil lawsuit.

In its news release Wednesday, Woolf’s office said Matsumoto first complained about Goicoechea on July 14. The office then hired a private law firm to conduct an independent investigation.

“Upon the conclusion of office of state controller’s internal investigation, SCO took effective remedial action,” Woolf’s office said in its statement. “SCO then separated Mr. Goicoechea’s employment with SCO.”

State Department of Education director of communications Allison Westfall declined comment Wednesday. She would not tell Idaho Education News when Ybarra learned of the tort claim, or what Ybarra knew about Goicoechea’s work history before she hired him.

“Superintendent Ybarra will not comment on a confidential personnel matter,” Westfall wrote in an email.

In her claim, Matsumoto said she would release her claim if Goicoechea is removed from any supervisory role in state government and she was given a lump sum payment of $136,500 for 18 months’ salary and benefits and another $50,000 for emotional distress. Matsumoto also requested harassment and discrimination training for the controller’s office and a written employment reference.

If the state does not act by Friday, Matsumoto and her attorney said they were prepared to pursue her legal claims and file charges of discrimination with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Commission.

Goicoechea was one of Ybarra’s earliest political supporters. He was among the first prominent Republicans to offer to help her rookie campaign. He also supported her financially, donating to her campaign in 2014 and again earlier this year. The $100 Goicoechea sent Ybarra’s campaign accounted for about 11 percent of Ybarra’s political contributions through the first half of 2017.

Ybarra said she is gearing up to announce her run for re-election in 2018, but she told Idaho Education News on Tuesday night that she has not made her formal campaign announcement.

On Sept. 6, Goicoechea refused to allow an Idaho Education News photographer to take a photo of him.

Goicoechea’s departure leaves an open full-time position at the SDE, but Ybarra has not yet decided how to fill it. Going forward, Westfall will take over several of Goicoechea’s responsibilities, including serving as Ybarra’s point person on the Idaho Land Board, and as Ybarra’s primary news media contact, Westfall said Thursday.

Read the claim

Click here to read the publicly available Goicoechea tort claim. The claim contains graphic language and explicit allegations of sexual harassment.


Clark Corbin

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