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REI CEO leaves over an undisclosed relationship

Seattle - Officials say the president and CEO of outdoor retailer REI has resigned for failing to disclose a relationship he had with the head of another organization in the outdoor industry.

REI officials at the co-op's Kent, Washington, headquarters said Tuesday that Jerry Stritzke had resigned and will leave March 15.

A company statement said the resignation came after an outside investigation into "a personal and consensual relationship." The partner organization was not identified.

"The investigation was conducted by an external law firm and overseen by the board," the REI statement said. "It also thoroughly evaluated the working relationship between the REI Co-op and the partner organization and found that there was no financial misconduct. The board is otherwise satisfied that their expectations of how the two organizations should work together have been met.

Stitzke resigned because "he acknowledges that the facts led to a perceived conflict of interest, which he should have disclosed under the REI conflict of interest policy, which requires every REI executive to model the highest standard of conduct," the company added.

REI board Chair Steve Hooper said since Stritzke became CEO in 2013 he and a strong team have consistently delivered outstanding results.

Stritzke apologized to employees in a letter, saying he was sorry he didn't disclose the relationship. REI's chief operating officer Eric Artz will become interim CEO.

Heightened sensitivities

While sexual harassment doesn't appear to an issue in the REI case, what happened is still an indicator of the heightened sensitivities in Corporate America in the age of #MeToo – even concerning consensual relationships.

"Boards are instituting zero-tolerance policies on sexual harassment and cracking down on even consensual relationships, particularly between leaders who may have any kind of perceived or actual professional power over the other person," said Andrew Challenger, vice president of Challenger, Gray & Christmas, in a press release.

"For those employees who want to pursue a relationship at work," he added, "communicating clear policies and guidelines is key to creating a safe environment for successful relationships as well as successful de-couplings."