In 2019 the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries released an investigation finding many instances of sexual harassment in the state Capitol. It was made worse by ineffective investigation of complaints.
House Speaker Tina Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney, both Democrats, did not seem to have done enough or reacted properly when confronted with alleged harassment. A lawsuit against the Oregon Legislature was settled in 2019 for $1.32 million. Kotek and Courtney both vowed to do better and have worked to change the Capitol’s workplace culture.
And now we find they need to do more to provide oversight for state agencies.
A new state audit finds agencies can make things worse by ineffectively investigating complaints of harassment and discrimination. The state agency responsible for supervising statewide human resources, the Department of Administrative Services, called DAS, fails to provide oversight and track data. And there is no formal training for the staff who perform investigations of allegations.
It should be noted that DAS agreed with all the recommendations in the audit for changes to correct the problems. That’s encouraging. Some of it will require funding from the Legislature.
But state auditors also reported obstacles in getting access to investigation files when they were preparing this audit. For instance, they wrote the Department of Justice was not willing to provide electronic access to their files. That certainly seems odd.
We asked the DOJ why. Deputy Attorney General Fred Boss wrote back saying the DOJ offered to let the auditors view the files in a DOJ office. Auditors declined because of COVID-19 concerns. The auditors asked for them electronically. Boss said before DOJ could respond “we were advised that the audit would proceed without them.” He said there were delays on DOJ’s part because of concerns about the security of the files.
Despite what Boss said, it’s important to note DOJ was the only state agency that was singled out in the audit report for such difficulty in complying with a legal records request from auditors.
The objective of this new state audit was to “determine if DAS ensures effective management over workplace discrimination and harassment complaints.” The short answer is no.