UPDATE (11:45 a.m. PT) — Two law school Oregon legislative interns who worked in former Republican state Sen. Jeff Kruse’s office filed a lawsuit on Tuesday detailing how they were sexually harassed in Kruse’s office. The lawsuit also claims legislative leaders knew of the harassment and failed to protect the interns.
“Former Senator Jeff Kruse routinely sexually harassed women at the Capitol and created a sexually hostile work environment for many years, beginning well before the time period when he sexually harassed plaintiffs,” the lawsuit reads. “Not a single member of legislative leadership, human resource management, or a single senator can likely claim ignorance to that history.”
The suit also names Senate President Peter Courtney, Legislative Counsel Dexter Johnson and legislative HR Director Lore Christopher, along with the state of Oregon and the Legislature. The suit was filed on Tuesday in Marion County.
Kruse was forced to resign in 2018 after several women, including two state senators, claimed he sexually harassed them. The lawsuit was filed by Portland lawyer Charese Rohny. It seeks $6.7 million in damages.
Law Students And Legislative Interns
When Anne Montgomery was selected to serve as a legislative intern she was a third-year law student at the University of Oregon. She took time off from law school to serve as a fellow to the Oregon Legislature’s Coastal Caucus. It was worth briefly taking time off from school, the lawsuit reads, because Montgomery wanted to secure a career in politics.
The harassing behavior started immediately, according to the court filing.
Kruse called her “little girl,” “my baby lawyer” and “sexy.” He would tell her her husband was lucky and asked about her sex life at home. He placed his hands on her thighs and his head on top of hers as she sat at her desk, the lawsuit reads. He subjected her to sexual banter, frequent hugs, and lingering touches, according to the lawsuit.
“Despite the power differential and fear of reprisal, Montgomery communicated to Kruse that his behavior was unwelcome, such as by removing his hand from parts of her body, by walking away from him, by wiggling out of his grasp, and by other behavior such as moving her desk to another Senator’s office area,” the lawsuit reads.
Montgomery stopped wearing makeup. She put on baggy clothes. She trained herself to listen for Kruse’s footsteps so she could try and make herself difficult to touch, according to the suit.
Montgomery allegedly told other lawmakers, including Sen. Betsy Johnson. She eventually moved her desk into Johnson’s work area.
When the state’s labor commissioner filed a complaint, Montgomery called Johnson to give her a heads-up that she was participating. She wanted her to know that she was trying to keep the coastal caucus out of it and was hoping it wouldn’t interfere with future employment, according to the lawsuit.
“Sen. Johnson was curt during that call and quickly hung up. Since that conversation, Ms. Montgomery called back multiple times and dropped by the Senator’s office, on each occasion since Senator Johnson declined to talk with or meet with Ms. Montgomery,” the lawsuit reads.
As a result of her experience working in the Legislature, Montgomery has experienced fear, panic attacks, severe anxiety, loss of self-esteem, loss of reputation and emotional distress, the lawsuit reads. She also, according to the lawsuit, feels she has lost a career in politics.
From January through late April 2017, the other plaintiff, Adrianna Martin-Wyatt, was also an intern in Kruse’s office. She was a second-year law student at the University of Oregon. She was subjected to similar behavior from Kruse, from asking about her sex life to inappropriate touching and asking to be invited to her home late in the evening.
The lawsuit claims Kruse hugged and squeezed her so tightly she could not move as he was assigning her work. He put his hand on her shoulders, he talked to her nose-to-nose, subjected her to sexual banter, massaged her shoulders and shared private and inappropriate details about his own life with her, according to the lawsuit.
In April 2017, the conditions were so bad, Martin-Wyatt decided she could no longer stand it. She quit before the session was over.
After state Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, came forward with her complaints of sexual misconduct and inappropriate touching by Kruse, Martin-Wyatt reached out to the Legislature’s lawyer, Dexter Johnson, and told her she had also been harassed by Kruse in October of 2017.
“In December 2017, a fellow staffer from the Capitol contacted Ms. Martin-Wyatt and told her that several Republicans at the Capitol felt she was a traitor for coming forward about Kruse’s sexually inappropriate conduct because it created the possibility of losing a Republican Senator for votes,” the suit reads.
Both women were prominent in an investigation into Kruse’s conduct. Both described a pattern of unwelcome touching and inappropriate conduct by the lawmaker, along with indifference from Capitol staff who witnessed the behavior.
They also said they were given misleading information about their options by the author of that report, a lawyer named Dian Rubanoff.
Martin-Wyatt was told her identity might become public because she had participated in the Rubanoff report. During that call, the legislative counsel staffer agreed Martin-Wyatt’s career was over in the Capitol and expressed sympathy.
The Legislature is also currently in the midst of a mediation session with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries related to a hostile workplace environment and ongoing sexual harassment in the Capitol.
Dexter Johnson, Courtney and Christopher declined to comment.
In a press release from their lawyer, the women said they hope that by coming forward, “their experiences will foster a new environment where the safety of women is taken seriously, and they are offered support when harassment occurs.”