On Monday, an Oregon legislative committee dismissed a complaint that the Democratic candidate for governor, Tina Kotek, had made the Legislature a hostile place to work. The committee also came to the conclusion that the rules for the legislature aren’t strong enough to deal with unwelcome behaviour.
The grievance, which was resolved less than a week before election day, was the result of a contentious discussion Kotek, who was then the speaker of the Oregon House of Representatives, had with former Rep. Diego Hernandez, a Democrat from Portland, in 2019.
When Hernandez was the focus of a separate sexual misconduct inquiry in January 2021, he filed his complaint, alleging Kotek had bullied him and threatened to ruin his career if he didn’t support a bill that reduced pension benefits, and then demanded his resignation in retaliation.
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Kotek didn’t violate any regulations, according to Melissa Healy, a lawyer with Portland-based Stoel Rives who was appointed by the House to carry out an impartial investigation. This is in part because the Legislature has different standards for behaviour than other workplaces.
Healy stated to the House Conduct Committee on Monday that “there was an acrimonious conversation between two colleagues.” Everyone concurs that it was hot.
Republican Raquel Moore-Green of Salem and Democrat John Lively of Springfield and Jason Kropf of Bend. The committee’s members included Werner Reschke of Klamath Falls, and its co-chairs were Lively and Moore-Green. Earlier in October, they heard testimony from Hernandez and three current or former lawmakers.
The four agreed on a set of facts: on May 30, 2019, Kotek urged Hernandez to vote for a pension reform measure; on May 4, 2020, Kotek called for Hernandez’s resignation; and on May 30, 2019, Hernandez deemed Kotek’s manner during their interaction “unwelcome.”
They disagreed, however, on whether Hernandez’s ability to perform his work was impacted and if either episode was an illustration of severe or pervasive behaviour. According to Kropf, Hernandez was successful in promoting his own legislative interests, such as a bill allowing undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licences, voting against the legislation Kotek wanted him to support, and succeeding in his bid for reelection in 2020.
According to Kropf, “it seems like he was able to function pretty darn well within this employment.”
Hernandez’s May 2019 talk with Kotek is certain to have contributed to his eventual mental health issues in 2021, according to Reschke, who countered that he is aware that trauma victims don’t always suffer poor mental health repercussions straight away. Hernandez revealed to lawmakers earlier this month that he suffered from complex post-traumatic stress disorder and depression.
Reschke continued by asking what the threshold was for a heated discussion to turn hostile.
Reschke stated, “I always say this is a full-contact sport, and if you come in thinking your uniform’s not going to be soiled and your nose isn’t going to be broken, you’re going to be in for a shock.” We must maintain a high level since we are professionals, and even when we strongly disagree, we must treat one another with respect.
Hernandez didn’t show a consistent pattern of harassment, according to Healy, and being yelled at wasn’t enough to establish a hostile work environment—especially when Hernandez yelled back at Kotek. She claimed that the day following the 2019 chat, Kotek expressed regret.
After a brief break, Moore-Green said that she did not believe the committee needed to vote on whether Kotek had broken a regulation. All four of them voiced dissatisfaction with the complaint procedure and the length of time it took to get a report from Healy.
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Since the last officer departed in 2021, no one has been selected to fill the job of legislative equity officer, which was formed in the wake of a sexual harassment controversy in 2018.
The first candidate recruited to fill the position was charged with ignoring concerns and failing to maintain accurate records, and the second was fired for allegedly fabricating his resume and is now suing the state. In the meanwhile, professional attorneys retained by the Legislature handle grievances.
Since neither of the members involved is currently a legislator, Lively added, “I don’t know what the remedy would have been having we found that a rule was broken.” “This procedure needs to be made to work for everyone who serves in the future Legislature,”
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