After losing in court last week, Oregon’s top lawmakers aren’t done fighting an investigation into sexual harassment at the Capitol.
On Friday, a lawyer representing Oregon’s Legislative Assembly formally appealed a Nov. 19 ruling that said Capitol officials had to produce documents and sit down with investigators from the state’s Bureau of Labor and Industries. They’re also asking the Oregon Court of Appeals to put that order on hold while they make their case.
“In the event that respondents are not granted this stay, they will be forced to turn over documents by December 5, 2018, in which case there would be no way to ‘put the genie back in the bottle,’” the filing said.
The case revolves around an investigation launched in August, when state Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian filed a complaint alleging that top lawmakers had allowed a culture of sexual harassment to persist in the Capitol.
Avakian accused officials of downplaying or ignoring harassment at the hands of former Republican state Sen. Jeff Kruse, and of misleading some victims about their options. Kruse resigned this year, after an investigation substantiated allegations of inappropriate comments and unwelcome touching toward lawmakers, lobbyists and interns.
In light of the complaint, investigators with Avakian’s Bureau of Labor and Industries, known as BOLI, have issued subpoenas to Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem; House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland; Senate Minority Leader Jackie Winters, R-Salem; and other officials in the Capitol.
The subpoenas are wide in scope, reaching back years and seeking a complete picture of harassment incidents. But nearly all the officials have refused to comply. They argue that producing the material risks revealing victims’ identities, and that Avakian has no authority to investigate the Legislature.
Multnomah County Judge Christopher Marshall ruled last week that Avakian does have that authority. Marshall’s decision is the subject of the appeal.
“We don’t want to produce these documents that will affect so many people,” said Edwin Harnden, an attorney representing the Legislature in the case.
Included in the Legislature’s request are declarations from Courtney and Kotek, along with two state senators. All four officials express concerns that victims’ identities could be made public if they’re forced to release documents to BOLI. One of the senators, Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Portland, was one of two lawmakers to file a formal complaint over inappropriate conduct by Kruse.
“I have personal concerns about the potential impact resulting from producing personal records and information relating to individuals who shared concerns about sexual harassment or inappropriate behavior in the Capitol,” Steiner Hayward’s declaration said. “I have firsthand knowledge of employees at the Capitol who did not want to openly share their experiences or participate in an investigation or complaint, specifically because they did not wish for their identities or information to be shared with anyone.”
Steiner Hayward added that she spoke with employees who would not have participated with an investigation into Kruse’s conduct if they weren’t granted anonymity.
For its part, BOLI said it’s gone to great lengths to ensure that such anonymity remains in place. The bureau has secured a protective order from an administrative law judge, barring public release of any materials it secures in subpoenas.
Attorneys for the Legislature have suggested that order isn’t trustworthy. They point to court filings from BOLI that included affidavits from two interns who were harassed by Kruse. In the documents, the former interns came forward for the first time under their real names, and accused Capitol officials of misleading them about their options.
The Legislature’s attorneys have seized on the documents, insinuating BOLI released the women’s names without their permission. But one of the two women, Adrianna Martin-Wyatt, told OPB that’s not true.
“I am appalled that the Legislature is dragging their feet so much and fighting so strongly against changing the culture at the Capitol,” Martin-Wyatt said. “After seeing that they were not complying with the BOLI investigation and not being transparent like they promised, I decided to come forward publicly because I believe we have an opportunity to change the culture at the Capitol. I could not help make that change remaining anonymous anymore.”