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Recording shows incoming DSS Sec. threatens job over sexual harassment claims

Incoming Department of Social Services Secretary Matt Althoff
Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls
Incoming Department of Social Services Secretary Matt Althoff

The newly appointed secretary of the Department of Social Services is facing scrutiny over his handling of a sexual harassment allegation in his previous job.

Gov. Kristi Noem announced Matt Althoff’s appointment after DSS Secretary Laurie Gill said she was retiring.

Althoff served in the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls for the last 15 years. The bulk of that time he spent as chancellor.

According to a 2017 report by KELO TV’s Angela Kennecke, during Althoff’s time as chancellor a church employee brought forth claims of two years of sexual harassment by a priest.

That employee secretly recorded a conversation between them and Althoff, where he acknowledged the employee was a victim of sexual harassment and of someone who crossed professional boundaries.

In the recording, Althoff then told the employee they would lose their job if they kept reporting the behavior.

“Let me tell you, and I don’t like to be threatening. Because it’s an employee situation I think now that we have this established arrangement, this understanding, you need to understand that that complicates the church’s ability to employ you. If you continue to send things out," Althoff said, in the 2017 story.

The diocese called the recordings 'heavily edited' at the time. Neither a spokesperson for the governor’s office, nor Althoff returned requests for comment.

Representative Erin Healey, D-Sioux Falls, sits on the House Health and Human Services committee. She said she’s concerned with how the incoming secretary handled poorly a sexual harassment allegation.

“Someone who doesn’t have good judgement to properly handle harassment allegations should not be leading an agency that handles child protection, childcare and behavioral health,” Healy said.

The state Senate confirms executive branch appointees, like cabinet secretaries. Lawmakers convene next week for the start of regularly scheduled legislative session.

Lee Strubinger is SDPB’s Rapid City-based news and political reporter. A former reporter for Fort Lupton Press (CO) and Colorado Public Radio, Lee holds a master’s in public affairs reporting from the University of Illinois-Springfield.