Two former interns subjected to sexual harassment in Oregon’s Capitol have made their names public for the first time, and say they were misled about their rights by an attorney for the Legislature after they came forward.
Adrianna Martin-Wyatt and Anne Montgomery made the claims in a pair of declarations filed as part of an ongoing legal fight between Oregon's Legislative Assembly and state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian. Their purpose is to add credence to Avakian's assertion that lawmakers allowed a culture of sexual harassment to fester at the Capitol.
Lawyers for the Legislature and Avakian are scheduled to meet in court next week, where a judge may decide if the lawmakers and other officials must comply with subpoenas issued by Avakian’s Bureau of Labor and Industries.
Both Martin-Wyatt and Montgomery were interns in the office of former state Sen. Jeff Kruse, who resigned earlier this year amid a sexual harassment scandal.
The women were prominent in an investigatory report over 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.
But in the newly filed documents, they said they were given misleading information about their options by the author of that report, a lawyer named Dian Rubanoff.
“Ms. Rubanoff made statements leading me to believe that she did not see how my employment fit within a clear definition that would allow me to be part of a complaint [against Kruse],” Montgomery’s statement said. “I did not learn that I was protected under Oregon law until my statute of limitation had expired and I lost my rights to assert a claim.”
Similarly, Martin-Wyatt said in a court filing that “Rubanoff stated that because I was not an employee, I had no standing to file a complaint, and that I would be a witness, not a complainant.”
Martin-Wyatt has made the claim publicly before, though without explicitly tying herself to the Kruse case. In an Aug. 31 Twitter post, she wrote that Rubanoff “absolutely and in no uncertain terms said that interns had no legal standing to file complaints at the Capitol.”
In 2013, the Legislature passed a law specifically extending protections from harassment to interns.
The interns' accounts are central to an unprecedented complaint Avakian filed Aug. 1 against the Legislature, alleging top lawmakers had allowed a hostile work environment by not taking Kruse's behavior seriously, and that Capitol officials had misled victims about their rights.
Lawmakers and officials named in the complaint have denied many of the claims. Rubanoff has done so categorically. She currently serves as an "independent" reporting option for Capitol employees who might experience harassment, but don't feel comfortable reporting it to legislative attorneys or human resources officials.
Both Martin-Wyatt and Montgomery accuse Rubanoff of “impugning my credibility and jeopardizing my career opportunities” with her denial.
In response, Rubanoff told OPB in a statement that she has "not taken any position regarding the credibility of the students."
"Neither of them indicated that they had any interest in filing a complaint under [the Legislature's] personnel rule," Rubanoff wrote. "I stand by my prior statement that there was no discussion whatsoever with the students regarding their legal right to file a complaint with the Bureau of Labor, or to file a lawsuit in court."
Avakian introduced the former interns’ identities as a way to counteract one of the Legislature’s chief arguments for not complying with his investigation: Lawmakers said they don’t want to risk names of the victims becoming public, and don’t believe that Avakian will keep them safe.
As the Legislature’s attorney wrote in a court filing earlier this month: “Respondents have no reason to trust that Commissioner Avakian will protect individuals’ confidential information.”
Montgomery and Martin-Wyatt said no one ever asked if they were concerned about BOLI’s investigation.
“My initial fear of being publicly identified in this matter was due to my belief, based in part by statements made by an employee in the Legislative Counsel’s office, that public knowledge of my involvement could damage my career opportunities,” Martin-Wyatt’s statement said. “I support BOLI’s continued investigation into these matters.”
The former interns aren’t the only harassment victims to provide a statement. A former Capitol employee who said she was harassed by a staffer for Senate President Peter Courtney in 2015 also made an anonymous declaration.
She, too, voiced support for the BOLI investigation, and said no one contacted her about whether it concerned her.
The anonymous employee also suggested something Avakian has asserted in court filings: There are more harassment victims who haven’t yet come forward.
“I am acquainted with other persons who have worked at the Oregon State Capitol, and who have disclosed to me that they have been subjected to sexually harassing conduct at the State Capitol,” the employee wrote. “Those persons have told me they do not want me to disclose their identities, due to fear that doing so will result in harm to their career opportunities. I share those concerns, which is why I requested not to be identified in the commissioner’s complaint.”
In court documents filed in Multnomah County court Wednesday, Avakian writes that “BOLI is aware of at least six and possibly as many as 15 other victims who may come forward as the investigation unfolds.”
Since August, Avakian has issued a flurry of subpoenas to top lawmakers and other officials in the Capitol, seeking documents and interviews on events spanning several years. He said he’s seeking to determine whether the Legislature violated labor laws by allowing harassment in its ranks.
But the targets of his investigation have refused to comply. They said Avakian has no constitutional authority to investigate them. They also pointed to formal steps they’re taking to create formal rules for dealing with harassment, and said Avakian’s investigation risks outing victims.
In court filings, lawmakers have also suggested Avakian has an axe to grind, ascribing "personal or political" motives to his investigation. Edwin Harnden, a lawyer representing the Legislature, recently called the labor commissioner "out of control."
Avakian, whose term expires in 2019, denies this.
“For the past three months, Respondents have used their pretext as a rouse for failing to comply with the lawfully issued subpoenas,” he wrote.
A lawyer for the labor commissioner is scheduled to argue in Multnomah County court Monday that the investigation is legal and proper, and that officials who’ve ignored subpoenas should be fined more than $1 million for doing so.
An attorney for the Legislature is hoping to get the case tossed. If he’s successful, Avakian’s subpoenas would be effectively moot, and it’s not clear how his investigation could continue.