State labor investigation finds evidence of discrimination at Multnomah County DA’s office

By Rob Manning (OPB)
July 21, 2023 9:39 p.m.

District Attorney Mike Schmidt showed a pattern of elevating men to leadership positions in his office, according to the investigation.

The Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries found “substantial evidence” that the Multnomah County District Attorney’s office engaged in discrimination based on gender and sex, as well as retaliation connected to those complaints. The findings, first reported by The Oregonian/Oregonlive, resulted from an investigation kickstarted by a complaint filed by Carolyn Amber Kinney, an attorney in the DA’s office who resigned in February 2022.

The BOLI investigation agreed with Kinney’s assertion that the DA’s office discriminated against her, and other women practicing law under the county prosecutor, Mike Schmidt, when it comes to promotions into leadership roles.

District Attorney Mike Schmidt speaking at a podium while a small crowd of political leaders stand behind him.

FILE: Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt speaks at a press conference at the Multnomah County Courthouse in Portland, Ore., on Dec. 14, 2022.

April Ehrlich / OPB

“Despite an almost equal distribution of male and female attorneys overall, only around 20% of women compared to 80% of men held leadership positions,” the investigation said.

In addition, a predominantly male leadership group made decisions about whom to elevate into higher positions, using factors BOLI considered “extremely subjective.” The list of qualifications includes “perceived readiness for promotion,” “ability to work with a team” and “a demonstrated willingness to promote the DA’s policy and philosophical direction.”


BOLI’s report said the DA’s office didn’t provide details on how the factors are taken into account.

The District Attorney’s leadership team promoted six attorneys into top positions in an 18-month period from August 2020 to January 2022. Five of the promoted attorneys were men, “despite the majority of eligible employees for leadership positions being women.” The BOLI report acknowledges, though, that after Kinney raised concerns and resigned in February 2022, several women received promotions.

BOLI’s investigation found friction between Schmidt and Kinney, dating back to Schmidt’s run for office. Schmidt suggested “concerns about [Kinney]’s judgement” according to the BOLI report, but investigators found little documentation of problems and instead pointed to favorable performance ratings for Kinney over her 14 years of service.

In addition, BOLI found that Schmidt “subjected [Kinney] to unbearable working conditions, ultimately leading to her resignation.”

In the wake of Kinney raising concerns about gender discrimination, the BOLI investigation found evidence that Schmidt retaliated against Kinney. Amid a discussion of creating a new leadership position in the office, and possibly moving Kinney into it, Schmidt was hesitant. BOLI’s report says Schmidt told his executive team “he would not endorse the promotion of someone metaphorically ‘holding a gun to his head.’”

The BOLI investigation did not support all of Kinney’s allegations. Kinney alleged she was discriminated against because she was married, but BOLI concluded there was not “a clear connection between the alleged discriminatory impact of the policy and her marital status.” Instead, BOLI said the evidence in their investigation showed other factors played a role as well — such as her having small children and a full-time working spouse.

The investigation also dismissed the allegation that the DA’s office had a hostile work environment. BOLI said Kinney didn’t present “evidence of harassment” such as name-calling or offensive jokes.