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Originally published Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 9:45 PM

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Mayor exhibited workplace bias, report concludes

Evidence that Lynnwood Mayor Don Gough sexually harassed and discriminated against his former executive assistant was inconclusive, however...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Evidence that Lynnwood Mayor Don Gough sexually harassed and discriminated against his former executive assistant was inconclusive, however an investigator hired by the City Council found Gough engaged in other bad behavior and tried to interfere with the probe.

A 29-page synopsis of the months-long investigation was released by the city Thursday. Gough was not immediately available for comment.

"Whether or not Mayor Gough harbors an actual gender-related bias, the evidence in this investigation reveals that Mayor Gough interacts in a way that has created the reasonable perception of bias among a number of individuals, both men and women," wrote investigator Kris Cappel. "The evidence also indicates that his actions appear to disproportionately impact women."

The investigation was launched in March after Gough's former executive assistant, Stephanie Simpson, complained of a hostile workplace and resigned.

Simpson complained that she was berated and belittled by Gough, bearing the brunt of chauvinistic remarks.

The investigation was hampered by a number of obstacles, Cappel wrote, not the least of which was Simpson's reluctance to cooperate. Gough, for his part, repeatedly postponed his interview and undertook an investigation of his own that Cappel concluded was, at least in part, intended to intimidate other city employee witnesses, the report said.

In March, Simpson settled a $49,500 claim with the city for what she said was Gough's discriminatory treatment of her as a woman and mother. Simpson went to work for Gough in 2006. When she became pregnant that same year she claimed he said, "Well, that was bad planning."

The majority of witnesses who worked with or for the mayor reported that Gough was impersonal, dismissive, condescending and occasionally a bully, the report said. The report said some witnesses observed female staffers crying after interacting with the mayor.

Reports of gender bias were inconsistent, but witnesses said Gough had unflattering nicknames for some female employees, did not work well with women in supervisory positions and made demeaning remarks about working parents.

Two female employees who worked as mayoral executive assistants in some capacity reported positive interactions with Gough, describing him as compliant and flexible with their parenting and child-care needs.

But Gough's behavior was unbecoming when he intervened with Simpson's job application for an administrator position, according to the report..

After learning of her candidacy, the mayor complained to the city attorney and human-resources director, questioning her adeptness, which resulted in a reduction of Simpson's qualification status from "well-qualified" to "qualified." The report also reveals that Gough's relationship with Simpson became increasingly tense afterward.

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Gough was advised to avoid communication with potential witnesses about the investigation, the report said. But there were several occasions where, through his own admission, the mayor contacted potential witnesses conducting his own parallel investigation. During the investigation the mayor showed up at the home of a witness, staked out near the conference room where witnesses were being interviewed, and stalled his own interview.

Gough was elected in 2005 after serving two terms on the City Council. Before elected, he was seen as a sharp intellectual attorney who had mastered the intricacies of city policy and politics. But once in office, he told reporters he was too busy with city business to grant interviews and alienated staff and former supporters, according to city managers.

An administrative-law judge ruled Aug. 4 that Simpson was now entitled to unemployment benefits and had good cause for quitting.

Since then, the council drafted the resolution, released last week, calling for Gough's resignation.

It concludes that if Gough refuses to resign, he should take anger-management and sensitivity training "to assist him in improving his communication style and demeanor when working with City employees."

Lauren C. Williams: 206-464-3195 or lwilliams@seattletimes.com

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