OR official: Statehouse leaders allowed hostile environment
SALEM, Ore. (AP) – Oregon’s labor commissioner on Wednesday accused political leaders in the Legislature and officials in the state Capitol of permitting “a generally hostile environment based upon sex.”
The complaint is among the latest in the #MeToo wave of sexual misconduct allegations against men in power to hit Oregon’s Legislature and many other statehouses nationwide. It started with an expose last year of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.
In his complaint, Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian said Senate President Peter Courtney, House Speaker Tina Kotek and others failed to act quickly on complaints that then-Sen. Jeff Kruse was sexually harassing women. Kruse resigned in February after an investigation.
Avakian said that as early as March 2016, the legislative leaders “knew or should have known of Senator Kruse’s conduct and the broader sexually hostile environment in the Capitol, but did not take immediate and appropriate action to correct his conduct or otherwise protect individuals from the hostile environment.”
Avakian, Courtney and Kotek are all Democrats.
In response, Courtney and Kotek said in a joint statement: “We welcome additional scrutiny and a thorough investigation related to the Commissioner’s Complaint.”
Oregon Public Broadcasting earlier reported on Avakian’s complaint, which he sent to the civil rights division of the Bureau of Labor and Industries that he heads.
Avakian blamed Courtney and Kotek for allowing Kruse’s office to employ two student interns, in late 2016 and early 2017, after complaints had already been made about the senator’s behavior by two female senators. Courtney and Kotek are co-chairs of a committee that controls Capitol facilities and performs administrative functions, including personnel.
Kotek, in an email to The Associated Press, responded: “As a woman and person in a position of leadership, I have absolutely taken every complaint that was brought to my attention seriously.”
Ironically, also named in the complaint is Dian Rubanoff, a private lawyer who conducted an independent investigation of Kruse that determined he had harassed women in the Capitol building with prolonged hugging, groping and other unwelcome physical contact. Kruse, a Republican from the former timber town of Roseburg, announced his resignation two days after Rubanoff’s report was released.
Both interns said they had been sexually harassed by Kruse and subjected to unwanted touching.
Avakian claimed that Rubanoff told the two student interns, whom he identified only as Student A and Student B, there was no legal definition of their status and no way for them to file a lawsuit. Avakian noted the Legislature in 2013 passed a bill that extends protection against sexual harassment to student interns.
Rubanoff, in an email to the AP, said “those allegations are false.”
“I did not tell Student A or Student B that there was no legal definition of their status, and I did not tell them that there was no way for them to file a suit,” Rubanoff said.
A review of laws and policies about workplace harassment at the Capitol is being conducted by the Oregon Law Commission at Kotek’s and Courtney’s request.
In order to provide recommendations by year’s end, a commission workgroup has been receiving testimony and is holding a meeting on Aug. 21 at the Oregon State Bar in the Portland suburb of Tigard.
Kotek and Courtney also announced Wednesday they have established a new option to report unwanted behavior, to Rubanoff, in addition to other existing avenues.