The Oregon Legislature has agreed to pay $1.32 million to resolve sexual harassment claims brought by eight women who claimed they had endured unwanted touching, and verbal and electronic propositioning while working in the Legislature.
State Sen. Sara Gelser started the ball rolling when she registered a complaint against then-Sen. Jeff Kruse, which led to an investigation by the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries (BOLI). That investigation, which wrapped up earlier this year, found that the women had been subjected to sexual harassment and that legislative leadership, namely House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney, had failed to address the issue and aggressively resisted the BOLI investigation.
The size of the settlement – $1.32 million – is unprecedented. The eight women who filed the lawsuit will split $1.095 million of the settlement; $200,000 will go toward BOLI’s legal fees and investigative costs; and $26,200 will cover Sen. Gelser’s legal fees. (Sen. Gelser is not among the eight women who filed the lawsuit.)
Sen. Gelser called the settlement a step in the right direction, though she said the toxic culture at the Legislature is far from being the safe, healthy working environment it should be for interns, staff members, lobbyists, or elected officials.
“We can’t just proclaim we fixed it – sexual harassment – with the formation of a Capitol culture committee and trainings,” she said. “Not until people in the building tell us they feel safe and don’t fear retaliation – and we’re a long way from that place.”
Source: Willamette Week