A week after a stinging civil rights investigation found top lawmakers have allowed sexual harassment to fester in Oregon’s Capitol, the Legislature and state labor enforcers are talking settlement terms.
The Bureau of Labor and Industries announced on Friday it will enter into mediation with the Legislature in an attempt to find terms that address BOLI’s concerns. A report released Jan. 3 faulted lawmakers for not taking appropriate action to stop harassment they knew or should have known was playing out — a characterization some named in the report have taken issue with.
“While mediation and related communications are confidential, BOLI has invited attorneys for any aggrieved person to participate in the process, with the goal of finding a satisfactory resolution to the alleged discriminatory practices for all involved,” said a release from the labor bureau.
According to BOLI, an attorney for the Legislature requested the settlement process this week, not long after new Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle was sworn in. Hoyle is a former House majority leader who still has strong ties in the statehouse — a pronounced difference from the acrimonious relationship previous Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian had with legislators toward the end of his term.
BOLI said Friday it is not discussing what demands it will make of legislators to resolve the civil rights complaint, filed by Avakian in August 2018. The mediation process will remain confidential, though any settlement would be public. If talks break down, the labor bureau could also move forward with a prosecution of the Legislature under its administrative court process.
The recent findings against lawmakers largely have roots in misconduct by former state Sen. Jeff Kruse, who an investigation found had subjected interns, staffers, fellow lawmakers and others to inappropriate conduct and unwelcome touching over a course of years. Kruse resigned last year after the allegations came to light.
But the recent report also included allegations against other lawmakers, and suggestions that one state senator who reported misconduct was treated harshly by fellow legislators.
Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek, the legislature’s highest ranking officials, have been adamant that they are taking steps to correct harassment issues. Lawmakers are expected to pursue a series of fixes in the upcoming legislative session, including creating new reporting options for victims and a new investigatory process.
Even so, some victims have insisted they’ll keep pressing the issue. Two former law school students who were harassed while assigned to Kruse’s office have retained an attorney in the matter.