The state of Oregon's new labor commissioner, Val Hoyle, was sworn into office on Monday. She said her first order of business will be to review a scathing report from her agency detailing how sexual harassment made the Legislature a hostile workplace.
Hoyle has said she wants to talk with the investigators who prepared the report, which was put in motion when her predecessor, Brad Avakian, filed a complaint on behalf of four women who said they had been harassed in the Capitol. (As the complainant in the case, Avakian played no role in the investigation.)
It will be up to Hoyle to decide what sanctions, if any, to impose on the Legislature. Among Avakian's suggestions, according to a story from Oregon Public Broadcasting: Paying a year's tuition for two student interns who were harassed by former Sen. Jeff Kruse and setting up a $15 million fund to potentially pay other victims.
It's good for Hoyle to take a little bit of time to ponder her next move as she settles in as the head of the Bureau of Labor and Industries.
And legislative leaders and state officials could use the extra time to sort through the report and to assess their own efforts to deal with sexual harassment. If the report is accurate, those efforts thus far have been, to put this charitably, insufficient at best.
If you need a template for how sexual harassment endures (and can even thrive) in workplaces, you could do a lot worse than studying the picture of the Capitol painted by the BOLI report. (A copy of the report is attached to the online version of this editorial.)
Among the conclusions in the report:
• Legislative leaders knew, or should have known by 2015 at the latest, about numerous allegations of sexual harassment in the Capitol. Many of those allegations involved behavior by Kruse, who resigned after an investigation that was prompted in part by formal complaints filed by Sens. Sara Gelser of Corvallis and Elizabeth Steiner Hayward.
• Legislative leaders failed to deal with the complaints in a timely or effective manner. (In fact, the report notes in an aside, leaders "took more serious steps to curb former Senator Kruse's smoking (in the Capitol) than they did to curb his sexual harassment."
• People reporting issues "were told not to speak about their complaints and some were warned about the possibility of defamation or retaliation claims for doing so. ... The record indicates that people have a fear of retaliation for coming forward."
The report went into considerable detail about how legislative leaders dealt with Gelser and her complaint, and, again, the responses are sadly common for women reporting sexual harassment. House Speaker Tina Kotek, for example, told Gelser that other lawmakers found her "unlikable" during a conversation about why the speaker hadn't yet publicly called for then-Sen. Jeff Kruse to resign over sexual harassment allegations.
"And that is something that I have heard a lot from leadership," Gelser told investigators from the bureau, "that I am unlikable, that I'm disliked, that I'm unfriendly, grandstanding, media hungry." (Kotek has since said that she regrets how she delivered that message: "I deeply regret that I hurt Senator Gelser or made her feel less supported. I wish I had done a better job articulating the dynamics that I thought she needed to be aware of." Kotek, who noted that the Legislature is in the midst of upgrading its rules regarding sexual harassment, also has said that her initial reaction to the bureau's report was one of "disappointment and frustration.")
Judging by the report, however, a number of women in addition to Gelser feel disappointed and frustrated by the way their concerns have been handled by the Legislature. Legislative leaders undoubtedly hope that the rules upgrade Kotek mentioned will make a difference. But it also appears as if attitudes about harassment in the Capitol need some serious adjustment. (mm)