Investigation Shows City Administrator Likely Engaged in ‘Unwelcome’ Touching, Sexual Comments with Female Employees

By Daniel Warn / dan@yelmonline.com
Posted 12/21/21

The results of an independent investigation into Yelm City Administrator Michael Grayum’s alleged workplace misconduct suggest that Grayum engaged in “unwelcome” touching in the …

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Investigation Shows City Administrator Likely Engaged in ‘Unwelcome’ Touching, Sexual Comments with Female Employees

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The results of an independent investigation into Yelm City Administrator Michael Grayum’s alleged workplace misconduct suggest that Grayum engaged in “unwelcome” touching in the workplace and made comments of a sexual nature to several female employees.

The city of Yelm had an independent investigation conducted into Grayum’s workplace conduct following sexual harrassment allegations levied against him earlier this year.

Amid the allegations, Grayum announced his impending year-end resignation from his post during the Dec. 14 Yelm City Council meeting, though he did not cite the allegations as a reason for his decision.

Rebecca Dean, of Rebecca Dean PLLC, who works in the field of workplace and employment practices investigations, performed the investigation. A summary was given to the city on Dec. 15 and subsequently obtained by the Nisqually Valley News through a public records request.

Documents show that Grayum most likely did touch employees in ways they did not appreciate and did most likely engage in conversations with female employees that carried sexual connotations.

With regard to the alleged unwanted touching portion of the investigation, two employees interviewed claimed that Grayum “frequently touched them on the arm, shoulder and back, and occasionally touched them on the leg,” Dean wrote in her investigation summary.

Another employee claimed Grayum had also touched her on the leg, Dean added.

“I conclude that these allegations, including the allegations that Grayum touched these women on the leg, are credible, and more likely than not occurred,” Dean wrote.

However, Dean made a judgment regarding the sexual intent of the alleged unwelcome touches.

“I conclude, however, that more likely than not, this touching, while unwelcome, was

not made with a sexual intent,” Dean wrote. “I reach this conclusion because, objectively considered, the description of the contacts — brief, in passing, and not on intimate parts of the employees’ bodies — supports this assessment.”

Hannah Hollander, staff representative of the Washington State Council of County and City Employees — the city’s union — told Dean she felt Grayum targeted “very young, inexperienced, and attractive women” for those he allegedly touched in the manner reported. Dean noted the women she interviewed matched that description.

Hollander called on Yelm officials to seek a third-party consultant to investigate the sexual harassment allegations levied against Grayum on Sept. 17.

Dean asserted Grayum claimed he touched both men and women in the same manner.

One view of the situation would suggest the kind of touching Grayum allegedly engaged in “is in keeping with ordinary human dynamics, is not offensive and allowable, and that employees who object to this conduct bear the burden of establishing boundaries,” Dean wrote.

However, Dean’s view differs from that perspective, she wrote, based on her experience investigating workplace conduct since at least 2006.

Dean wrote “that assessment of the offensive nature of this conduct depends upon factors such as the relative organizational position and power, age differences between the parties and gender dynamics. From this perspective, in a modern workplace, low status women should not have to challenge high status men and set boundaries to prevent unwanted physical contact.

“In my assessment, at minimum, Grayum’s behavior demonstrates poor judgment and lack of awareness of modern workplace norms,” Dean wrote. “Considering the power and age differential between Grayum and these women, his assertion in my interview with him that he touches both men and women in the same fashion only illustrates the point.”

As for the allegations claiming Grayum made comments of a sexual nature to female employees, Dean wrote that while Grayum did likely make the comments, he made them in a joking manner that may not have been reported with complete accuracy by those interviewed.

“Regarding some of (one employee’s) allegations, Grayum asserted that he was responding to, or ‘riffing,’ on her overly frank statements because he did not want to be the ‘proper police’ or because he was trying to cut off, or turn the direction of, the conversation away from sexually tinged discussions of personal matters that (the employee) had initiated.”

Grayum claimed to Dean he had previously discussed the inappropriate nature of the employee’s unwanted “frank comments or sexual innuendos” to the city’s human resources department, but no action was taken by the department.

Dean wrote, however, that if Grayum had truly been uncomfortable with the direction the conversations were going, it was within his power to stop them from happening.

“(Grayum’s) response and management of the incidents was, in my assessment, misguided and ineffectual,” Dean wrote. “In other words, he had the power to take unambiguous and direct action to stop such comments but did not.”

During his interview with Dean, Grayum asserted “the union had been actively recruiting potential witnesses to ‘testify against him’ and the union was trying to ‘ruin his career,’” Dean wrote. 

Grayum also told Dean that one employee’s allegations should be invalidated since they came at a time when that employee was facing corrective action.

During the course of the investigation, Dean interviewed Hollander and Union President Jason Hardy, as well as seven other current or former city employees, some of whom held management positions. The individuals interviewed included the women who came forward with the allegations. 

Some of those interviewed expressed concerns over Grayum’s alleged creation of “a difficult work environment through forms of behavior that did not have sexual implications, such as oppressive and abusive management,” Dean wrote.

Dean made no conclusions regarding those allegations, as they were not in the scope of her investigation.

Documents the Nisqually Valley News previously obtained from the city of DuPont dating back to Grayum’s time as mayor of the city in 2013 discussed alleged workplace harassment on Grayum’s part. 

Grayum did not return the Nisqually Valley News’ request for comment.

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  • Bald-Hills-Reader

    I know nothing about Grayum; however, just reading this summary of the investigator's report and conclusions leaves the distinct impression that Grayum was in a true no-win situation. The employees had no duty to refrain from inappropriate comments to him because he was the boss yet he was at fault by creating an uncomfortable environment by taking steps to control the women's at-work behavior. This seems like yet another situation where everyone has lots of rights but no one has the responsibility to act reasonably when exercising those rights. All rights come with responsibilities. Somehow, we are learning all about our rights but not being educated about our concurrent responsibilities. That is the root cause of so much of what is increasingly wrong in our society.

    Saturday, December 25, 2021 Report this