Oregon legislature pays $1.1 million to sexual harassment victims

The Oregon Legislature will pay $1.1 million to eight victims of sexual harassment and hostile workplace behavior at the state Capitol under a settlement announced by the state labor department.

Posted: Mar 6, 2019 4:19 AM
Updated: Mar 6, 2019 10:17 AM

By SARAH ZIMMERMAN and ANDREW SELSKY Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — The Oregon Legislature will pay $1.1 million to eight victims of sexual harassment and hostile workplace behavior at the state Capitol under a settlement announced Tuesday by the state labor department.

House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney, both Democrats, issued a joint statement apologizing to the "women who suffered harm during their time in the Capitol."

Both were accused in an investigation launched by former Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian of not thoroughly addressing multiple allegations of sexual harassment by Sen. Jeff Kruse, a Republican from the former timber town of Roseburg, who resigned last year but maintains his innocence.

In addition to the eight victims, a ninth, Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, will be paid $26,612 by the Legislature for attorney's fees and other out-of-pocket expenses. Gelser was the first to publicly accuse Kruse of misconduct, marking the #MeToo movement's first impact in the Oregon State Capitol. She did not seek a larger settlement, saying she wanted to keep the focus on the other women.

Gelser said in an interview in her Senate office that the settlement "sends a really strong message to Oregonians and to people in this building that sexual harassment is a really big deal. This is a seven-figure settlement that impacts a lot of women, and that demonstrates that we have had a significant problem here."

Senate Majority Leader Ginny Burdick, D-Portland, said she's working hard with a bipartisan group of colleagues to enact recommendations of the Oregon Law Commission to "make the Capitol more inclusive, equitable and accountable."

At one point, Burdick herself had seen Kruse wrap his arms around Gelser at her desk on the Senate floor and step inappropriately close to her, and reacted by striding up to Kruse and saying: "Get your hands off Sen. Gelser."

Before the settlement — one of the largest the Bureau of Labor and Industries has brokered — was announced, Courtney took a 10-day medical leave for a flare-up of thyroid eye disease. Spokeswoman Carol Currie said doctors warned the 75-year-old that his condition will worsen if he doesn't take time to recover properly.

The labor department said its complaint process was politicized and inhibited both sides from participating thoroughly in its investigation. Courtney and Kotek complained that they were not questioned by labor department investigators. The two legislative leaders had resisted handing over documents from the Legislature to Avakian for the investigation last year. Avakian went to court, which compelled Courtney and Kotek to turn over the documents.

Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle, who replaced Avakian in January, said the settlement provides justice for the victims, accountability for the Legislature, and the establishment of a system to better respond to future workplace complaints.

"This settlement ensures that the injured parties have their harms addressed," Hoyle said. "It puts in place requirements and processes that, when fully implemented, will improve the Capitol as a workplace and will provide appropriate support to workers who may have issues in the future."

The settlement calls for the Legislature to pay a combined $1.1 million in non-economic damages to eight people who worked at the Capitol in a variety of roles but were not elected officials. The largest individual damages award is $415,000. The labor commission said it won't release the names of the eight in order to protect their privacy.

All aggrieved parties involved in this settlement agreed to release the Legislature of any future claims or litigation, including a lawsuit that was filed last month by two former Kruse interns against Kruse, the Legislature, Courtney and others, seeking millions of dollars in damages, the labor commission said.

The Legislature must hire an outside attorney, subject to labor commission review and input, to handle any complaints filed until lawmakers establish an Equity Office to handle complaints, as recommended by the Oregon Law Commission.

Gelser, who has become a leading advocate against workplace harassment, applauded the terms of the settlement but said she worries her fellow lawmakers will "decide that this situation is now resolved with a check."

Gelser expressed regret that there were no serious repercussions for the state's Legislative Counsel or other top leaders implicated in the scandal. She added the Legislature still needs to work to regain the trust of the public and prove that legislators are willing to address these issues head-on.

"We may have a settlement, but we also see that the institutions that safeguard power are still very, very strong," she said. "If we have the same institutions with the same leadership and the same culture, we can't really expect a change."

___

Oregon Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 133851

Reported Deaths: 1803
CountyCasesDeaths
Multnomah28467459
Washington18734171
Marion16247239
Clackamas11698138
Lane8353109
Jackson693085
Umatilla679368
Deschutes499936
Yamhill319045
Malheur313552
Linn311646
Polk245540
Klamath242838
Josephine174333
Benton170514
Jefferson170525
Douglas168743
Union111416
Wasco108123
Columbia104918
Lincoln99617
Hood River95421
Coos93815
Morrow93810
Clatsop6865
Crook62110
Baker5685
Tillamook3652
Curry3245
Lake2305
Grant2131
Harney1754
Wallowa963
Gilliam511
Sherman470
Wheeler201
Unassigned00

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 3055568

Reported Deaths: 34441
CountyCasesDeaths
Los Angeles103280614122
San Bernardino2561091560
Riverside2504362645
San Diego2168352109
Orange2148082477
Santa Clara943661109
Kern86718565
Fresno82485968
Sacramento806781111
Alameda67952765
Ventura62101436
San Joaquin58290786
Contra Costa52965450
Stanislaus42882758
Tulare41867506
Monterey36126255
San Mateo32596309
San Francisco29321262
Solano25806106
Imperial25317465
Santa Barbara25083236
Merced24452308
Sonoma24068240
Kings19435145
Placer17380180
San Luis Obispo15929136
Madera13443151
Santa Cruz12298113
Marin11693157
Yolo10620131
Shasta9776122
Butte9474123
El Dorado782644
Sutter775478
Napa760140
Lassen519516
San Benito496343
Yuba495127
Tehama397142
Tuolumne338240
Nevada320673
Mendocino311432
Amador301631
Lake261230
Humboldt239324
Glenn193519
Colusa17339
Calaveras161723
Siskiyou144613
Mono11214
Inyo97429
Del Norte8662
Plumas5895
Modoc3853
Mariposa3464
Trinity3024
Sierra820
Alpine730
Unassigned00
Medford
Clear
41° wxIcon
Hi: 51° Lo: 27°
Feels Like: 41°
Brookings
Clear
57° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 37°
Feels Like: 57°
Medford
Partly Cloudy
41° wxIcon
Hi: 41° Lo: 19°
Feels Like: 41°
Medford
Clear
41° wxIcon
Hi: 50° Lo: 24°
Feels Like: 41°
Klamath Falls
Partly Cloudy
38° wxIcon
Hi: 43° Lo: 20°
Feels Like: 38°
Dry and mild Wednesday
KDRV Radar
KDRV Fire Danger
KDRV Weather Cam

Community Events