Oregon lawmakers to hire outside lawyer for sexual harassment case

Oregon lawmakers to hire outside lawyer for sexual harassment case

A committee of lawmakers is planning to meet Monday morning in Salem, to hire an outside lawyer to respond to Oregon Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian’s complaint that legislative leaders covered up a culture of sexual harassment in the Capitol.

The complaint names House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney, saying they knew or should have known that former Sen. Jeff Kruse was harassing women and there was a broader hostile environment at the Capitol. Kotek and Courtney are Democrats and Kruse is a Republican.

Avakian also accused top legislative lawyer Dexter Johnson and human resources chief Lore Christopher of instructing women not to tell anyone about harassment by Kruse and two other men, and falsely telling victims they lacked standing to sue. The Legislature has until Wednesday to respond, Kotek has said.

 Oregon House Speaker, Senate President accused of sexual harassment cover-up by fellow Democrat

Legislative leaders had asked the Oregon Department of Justice to represent them, but the agency declined.

“Since BOLI and the Legislature are both clients of ours, we cannot represent both,” DOJ spokeswoman Kristina Edmunson wrote in an email Thursday afternoon. “We have determined to represent neither and have requested they each obtain outside counsel.”

The Legislature has not yet posted any list of lawyers or firms it is considering for the job. 

Gov. Kate Brown, in a telephone press conference with reporters Thursday, declined to comment on whether there is a hostile environment in the Capitol. 

“Certainly that complaint is under investigation and I’m not going to comment on it until that investigation is complete,” Brown said. “I’m doing everything in my power to make sure that gender status does not create a hostile work environment in places I have control.”

— Hillary Borrud

503-294-4034; @hborrud