Audio: Former Ag Department Employee Says Goehring Created A "Hostile Work Environment"

Earlier today SAB broke the news about complaints from Ag Department employees against Commissioner Doug Goehring concerning his professional behavior around women.

This afternoon I spoke with Katie Pinke, a former employee at the Ag Department who talked about her experiences there. She says it was more than that one incident, and claims that several employees of Goehring’s department have left over the years because of his behavior.

“I believe more than eight have left the ag department over the last few years,” she said in an interview.  “I think some of those are retirements, but there’s an underlying factor. It’s all off the record because nobody wants to feel the backlash. I reported it because I had to.”

Pinke filed a complaint state human resources officials over Goehring’s “harem” comments, and an incident in which he asked a female employee named Kelly Wald to come to his hotel room to crack his back during a conference out of state in June of 2012. “We were out of state and I made it very clear that was not going to happen,” she said. “He invited her to his hotel room to step on his back. I said that is not happening.”

According documentation of the incident obtained from the state’s Risk Management Department, Wald did go to Goehring’s room and walked on his back, but a male employee named Dane Braun was also present there. Braun later apologized to Wald for the incident, according to the records.

Pinke said Braun was in the room because she asked him to be there, but she doesn’t believe Goehring’s request had anything to do with flirtations or romance. ” I believe he was in pain and he didn’t see it as inappropriate, she said. “It was an uncomfortable situation though. It caused all of us to feel uncomfortable.”

Wald told human resources officials in an interview that she felt Goehring “doesn’t always handle himself appropriately with females.” As a result of the incident, Pinke moved Wald’s desk to another floor away from Goehring’s office. “Her office was right next to Commissioner Goehring’s. She felt uncomfortable,” said Pinke. “I felt it would break up the tension. I made that decision to improve the situation.”

Goehring also made what Pinke felt was an inappropriate comment shortly after she was hired. At a conference hosted by the North Dakota Game & Fish Department, Goehring was introducing division directors. According to Pinke, he introduced her as a “babe in the woods” which promoted “snickering” from other attendees. “I looked it up the next day in the Urban Dictionary and I found that it was an inappropriate phrase,” she said.

But Pinke makes it clear that she doesn’t feel Goehring should be seen as a bad person.

“Ms. Pinke says she does not think [Goehring] is trying to sexually harass anyone, and that he is a good person,” wrote Human Resources Director Laurie Sterioti Hammeren in a August 31st, 2012, report on Pinke’s complaint. “Ms. Pinke says she does not think the Commissioner knows his behavior is inappropriate.”

Pinke stands by those comments, but says she felt compelled to report the conduct.

“I really wanted to stay through the legislative session, but it just became a hostile work environment,” she said of her decision to leave Goehring’s department after fourteen months of employment. “I’m a mother of three and I want to make a better life for my children. I wanted to stand up for what was right.”

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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