Oregon legislative leaders are pushing back against an investigation into whether they permitted a culture of sexual harassment in the state Capitol.
In a letter sent Friday to the state's Bureau of Labor and Industries, an attorney for the Legislature formally objects to subpoenas issued in connection with a complaint filed by Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian on Aug. 1.
The substance and number of those subpoenas wasn’t clear Friday, but attorney Edwin Harnden wrote in the letter that the Legislature believes “all or part” of the subpoenas are an invasion of privacy, seek “highly confidential” information about individuals who reported harassment and are overly broad.
“The Legislative Assembly remains committed to transparency and will provide a thorough and detailed response to the BOLI Commissioner's Complaint,” the letter reads. “In parallel, the Assembly will protect the privacy of those individuals who disclosed personal information relating to harassment issues in the Capitol.”
Avakian’s Aug. 1 complaint sent shockwaves through the Capitol, and revived concerns over harassment in the Legislature that were laid bare beginning last year when several legislators came forward to accuse then-Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseberg, of misconduct.
An investigation substantiated those claims, and also unearthed female interns in Kruse’s office who complained about his actions.
Kruse has since resigned, and the Legislature has charged the Oregon Law Commission with reviewing its policies on harassment. Avakian’s complaint says that’s not enough.
The labor commissioner has accused the state’s top Democrats of inaction when they initially learned of complaints against Kruse.
And Avakian, a Democrat who leaves office at the end of the year, says the Legislature hasn’t done enough to ensure victims of harassment — including two legislative interns and two Capitol employees — had been encouraged to pursue all legal avenues for redress.
In one instance, Avakian suggested that Dian Rubanoff, an attorney who investigated allegations of harassment against Kruse, actively misled the two interns about their options for lodging a complaint or filing suit. Rubanoff has adamantly denied that charge.
In response to the complaint, House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney have pledged to transparently cooperate. The letter their attorney sent Friday suggests that they might resist some elements of the investigation.
The Legislature’s formal response to Avakian’s complaint is expected to be filed by Aug. 31.