Rep. Manweller let go from CWU position

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Central Washington University has fired Rep. Matt Manweller, R-Ellensburg, from his position as a tenured political science professor, effective immediately, concluding its months-long investigation into allegations that Manweller sexually harassed students and others. Manweller was placed on leave in December as the investigation was underway.

The investigation’s final report, as well as Manweller’s termination letter, will be made public on or around Aug. 27, as per university guidelines and the Public Records Act. University officials noted that Manweller can request the report be made publicly available immediately, or can seek to have it blocked from release via a court order. The report was first given to university officials July 9.

In a response sent to media, Manweller said that he wasn’t surprised.

“Over nine months ago the University communicated to me that they were going to terminate my employment regardless of what the investigation revealed,” Manweller said in a text message. “Today, they made good on that threat.”

Manweller said that he would be filing suit against the university and against lead investigator Trish Murphy of Northwest Workplace Law in the coming days. Manweller has suggested in recent weeks that his legal defense would be pointing to statements from women interviewed by Murphy that said the investigator was “manipulative,” and attempted to put words in their mouths.

Manweller has shown the Columbia Basin Herald two affidavits from women interviewed by Murhpy, as well as an email sent to Manweller’s lawyer, alleging that Murphy was not acting as a neutral arbiter of the facts.

“As has already been revealed in the media, several women have come forward to sign sworn affidavits noting that the investigator asked incredibly leading questions, badgered witnesses that did not agree with her narrative and tried to put words in their mouths,” Manweller said in a text message.

In a statement released Tuesday morning, the university defended Murphy’s reputation and conduct.

“The University regrets that Dr. Manweller has chosen to respond to the investigation report by publicly attacking the objectivity and professional integrity of the investigator,” CWU said in its statement. “Trish Murphy is a consummate professional who has conducted more than 200 workplace investigations and is widely respected as a seasoned investigator with high standards of objectivity, thoroughness, and fairness.”

Manweller has been critical of the university’s investigation ever since he received a copy of Murphy’s final report to CWU in mid-July, going on radio shows and releasing a statement discrediting the university, the investigator, and the allegations the report referenced.

“The University recognizes that its inability to comment during the pending investigation has enabled Dr. Manweller to access media outlets for the purpose of shaping his own message,” CWU said in its statement.

In radio interviews, the lawmaker called the investigation a “witch hunt,” and compared the political pressure he’s facing amid the allegations to McCarthyism. In a video statement released Aug. 1, Manweller said that he had nothing to apologize for and that the report consisted a string of “trivial,” “manufactured” allegations.

“The University deeply regrets that Dr. Manweller has chosen to make public statements minimizing, trivializing, even ridiculing, the female students who have come forward with legitimate concerns,” CWU said in its statement.

In an Aug. 1 interview on the Kirby Wilbur Show, Manweller listed the accusations he said would be brought up in the CWU report:

In one instance, Manweller said he had walked through the university’s cafeteria and spotted one of his students sitting alone that looked depressed. Manweller said that they had a brief conversation about the student’s emotional state and whether she liked the programs she was involved in.

Manweller said another allegation from a female student claimed Manweller had stared overly long at another student during class.

Another incident the investigator reviewed involved a student emailing Manweller on a legislative email account about her interest in becoming a lawmaker one day. Manweller said he emailed the student asking her to email a different account and that investigators called this unwanted contact.

CWU looked at more than Manweller’s time as a professor, he said. As a legislator, Manweller was the subject of informal complaints by a legislative staffer, whom Manweller invited to dinner to discuss her career path. After the dinner, Manweller opened the door for the staffer and helped her into her coat. The legislative staffer said the meeting had felt more like a date. Manweller said the report also referenced an incident where a woman felt he stood too close to her at a reception, and another incident where he gave his 23-year-old babysitter a glass of wine.

Manweller has been investigated for possible sexual misconduct twice before, in 2012 and 2013. Neither investigation substantiated central claims against the lawmaker, though the investigator found evidence in the 2013 report that Manweller may have violated school policies on sexual harassment. Manweller was reprimanded at least once by school officials, though he was later promoted by the university.

Manweller pointed to the support he’s received from the 13th Legislative District, which first elected him to public office in 2012, as evidence that his constituents aren’t swayed by the allegations against the lawmaker.

“It is never easy to stand up to a bully but I’m glad the voters in the 13th district are supporting my efforts,” said Manweller.

Though Democrat Sylvia Hammond did better in the primaries than any Democrat running in the 13th District in more than a decade, Manweller comfortably won his primary against Hammond by around 27 points.

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