Oregon Legislature Settles Harassment Case with BOLI

The terms of the settlement state that the state Legislature will pay a combined $1.1 million in non-economic damages to eight aggrieved parties who worked at the Capitol in a variety of roles but were not elected officials. The largest individual damages award is $415,000.

Oregon's Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI) announced March 5 that it has reached a settlement agreement with the Oregon Legislature to resolve a civil rights complaint that the bureau filed last summer. The Legislature will provide $1.1 million to eight victims of sexual harassment and hostile workplace behavior at the state Capitol in Salem. BOLI's news release says the agreement also ensures the Legislature "will swiftly put into place new systems for reporting and handling future complaints of workplace harassment, as well as for training everyone who works at the Capitol about prohibited conduct."

BOLI had reported that it found substantial evidence of unlawful employment practices by the state assembly over a period of several years.

BOLI Commissioner Val Hoyle said that the settlement meets the three criteria she sought for any potential agreement: justice for the victims, accountability for the Legislature, and establishment of a system to better respond to future workplace complaints. "This settlement ensures that the injured parties have their harms addressed," Hoyle said. "It puts in place requirements and processes that, when fully implemented, will improve the Capitol as a workplace and will provide appropriate support to workers who may have issues in the future."

Hoyle said the settlement includes damages for individuals who could not have brought their claims in court, due to the lapsed statute of limitations. "Those victims could only have had their harms addressed through a BOLI Commissioner's complaint. I'm pleased that we were able to provide them access to justice," Hoyle said.

The terms of the settlement state that the state Legislature will pay a combined $1.1 million in non-economic damages to eight aggrieved parties who worked at the Capitol in a variety of roles but were not elected officials. The largest individual damages award is $415,000. The names and other personal identifying information of the individuals who are party to the settlement are not being released publicly in order to protect their privacy. The Legislature will pay state Senator Sara Gelser $26,612 to reimburse her for attorney's fees and other out-of-pocket expenses; those were the only monetary damages sought by the senator.

All aggrieved parties involved in the settlement have agreed to release the Legislature of any future claims or litigation. Also spelled out by the terms is that the offices of Legislative Counsel and the Legislative Administration will not handle any future complaints of discrimination and sexual harassment at the Legislature; the Legislature must hire an outside attorney, subject to BOLI review and input, to handle any complaints filed until its new Equity Office is established; and the Legislature will adopt the Oregon Law Commission's recommendations for improving its workplace protections. The recommendations include the creation, by this summer, of the new Equity Office to handle workplace harassment complaints. New processes will be established for training about workplace behavior, for handling complaints, and for protecting potential victims through that new office. If new systems and structures are not put in place, BOLI retains the right to file formal charges.

BOLI's news release says that the agency "also acknowledges that its complaint process in this instance was politicized in a manner that inhibited both sides from participating thoroughly in the investigation last year."

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