The former human resources head at the Oregon Legislature has reached a retirement agreement with the state: She can work from home until September and receive her full salary, as long as she agrees not to sue.
Lore Christopher inked that deal with her supervisor in September 2018, not long after an unprecedented complaint from the state’s labor bureau suggested Christopher and other Capitol officials had downplayed reports of sexual harassment. She had served as human resources director since 1997.
The “retirement and transition agreement,” first reported by the Oregon Capital Insider, laid out a plan under which Christopher would retire at the end of 2018, but stay on as HR director while the state looked for someone to take her place. Once a replacement was found, Christopher would assume the position of “special projects coordinator,” helping with the implementation of pay equity laws in the Capitol, completion of a salary survey and ongoing lawsuits.
But the agreement also required Christopher to “release and discharge the state and the Legislature” from any claims for age discrimination.
It was unclear Friday whether Christopher had threatened legal action on those grounds. In an emailed response to questions, Christopher declined to elaborate on the provision or why it was necessary. Her supervisor, Legislative Administrator Daron Hill, didn’t immediately respond to questions about the arrangement.
According to House Speaker Tina Kotek’s office, the Legislature brought on Jessica Knieling, a former deputy human resources director in another state agency, as an interim replacement for Christopher on March 11.
Under the agreement, that triggered Christopher’s transition to special projects, a role that means she’s able to collect a $12,116 monthly paycheck while working from home.
Such arrangements are allowed under the Legislature’s personnel rules, and are supposed to be hammered out in an agreement that sets forth hours an employee is required to work, among other things. It was unclear Friday if such an agreement exists. Christopher said she is working 40 hours a week.
“I have state equipment and I am on the state network, which tracks daily computer usage for any state employee,” she wrote.
Christopher’s more than two-decade tenure as human resources chief in the Capitol had a somewhat rocky ending.
In August 2018, then-Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian filed a formal complaint against legislative officials, accusing them of failing to squelch a culture of sexual harassment at the Capitol. An investigation by the Bureau of Labor and Industries into the complaint included suggestions that Christopher had asked a harassment victim not to discuss her experience and had advised a lobbyist not to file a complaint against a state representative because it would go nowhere, among other things.
Christopher was also named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by two former Capitol interns who were harassed by then state Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg. That lawsuit was dismissed as part of a $1.3 million settlement agreement the Legislature reached with harassment victims earlier this month.
Asked Friday whether her retirement had anything to do with the harassment scandal, Christopher responded: “No.”
“My retirement was planned,” she wrote. “We worked together on a transition plan that allowed the work in progress to be completed from my home office when my replacement was hired.”