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Report: Commissioners' 'distressing' remarks not workplace discrimination

by: PHOTO BY JAIME VALDEZ - Clackamas County Commissioner Tootie Smith talks with Chair John Ludlow before a recent Commissioners' Business Meeting.

An investigation found that Clackamas County Chairman John Ludlow probably made sexist and racist comments in front of county staffers, but the remarks and his actions did not constitute legal discrimination against former county lobbyist Jared Anderson.

The official investigation was in response to Anderson's April 22 complaint to Clackamas County Department of Employee Services against Ludlow and Commissioner Tootie Smith.

Smith was also exonerated by the report, which found that her public insistence that the county hire an additional “experienced” lobbyist was not due to her perception of Anderson's age, political party affiliation, nor sexual orientation.

“While it is evident that knowledge of Commissioner Smith's remarks was highly distressing to Mr. Anderson, I do not find that they created an objectively hostile work environment,” writes Dana Sullivan, a Portland employment attorney hired to conduct the month-long investigation.

Anderson left the county on June 2, agreeing to a severance package of $43,775 and not to pursue any further action against the county.

The board of county commissioners voted to release the report last week in an effort to show that the county is committed to diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Read the investigation report

“For more than a decade Clackamas County has worked diligently to foster and develop a workplace that reflects diversity, equity and inclusion as core values of our public service mission,” said Ludlow in a statement paired with the report's release. “We recognize that our journey toward reaching these objectives comprises many steps — and sometimes missteps. We are constantly learning and growing together in common pursuit of this important objective.”

Anderson's original six-page complaint alleges that Ludlow made racist, sexist and derogatory comments in front of Public and Governmental Affairs staff, such as:

• During a dinner, Ludlow said former Commissioner Ann Lininger earned her seat in the Oregon House because “she does a good job of sticking out her perky titties in people's faces.”

• To a police officer about the perpetrators of a recent shooting: “I bet they were Mexicans.”

• On the day of the Boston marathon bombing: “I'm sure it was a damn A-rab.”

Ludlow has denied the alleged statements multiple times. Sullivan's investigation found that even if the precise verbiage is not correct, statements of this nature likely occurred, but do not constitute discrimination against Anderson.

Sullivan concluded that there is a “disconnect” between Clackamas County staff and “at least one commissioner” about what is appropriate workplace conversation.

Smith knew Anderson was gay several weeks before calls for an additional lobbyist

Anderson also recounted an incident on Jan. 29 in which he showed Smith a picture of a 4-year-old he recently adopted with his same-sex partner. Anderson believes Smith significantly changed her attitude towards him and his work performance after this encounter.

Sullivan's report concluded that, rather, Smith knew Anderson's sexual orientation several weeks before that encounter and was instead motivated by incorrect assumptions of Anderson's inexperience and disappointment of the county's position in the state's land use grand bargain bill (House Bill 4078).

Anderson rejects that assertion, saying that Smith's attitude changed before the result of the bill was known. HB 4078 was, he said, “an opportunity and platform to tarnish my professional credibility and hire an outside contract lobbyist to sideline me from my work, in large part due to her discomfort with, and distaste for, my sexual orientation and perceived political party affiliation.”

Read more: Tootie Smith denies workplace discrimination, points to report

Read the interview summaries

Read Anderson's original complaint

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Read Smith's statement

LGBTQ affinity group will 'never see the light of day'

In the months leading up to his departure from the county, Anderson also felt blocked from creating a Lesbian-Gay-Bisexual-Transgender-Queer (LGBTQ) affinity group, as allowed in the board's 2012 Resolution Valuing Diversity.

“This will never see the light of day,” Ludlow is reported as saying.

However, Sullivan found that Anderson was only told that he would need to create such a group on his own time and not during paid work hours.

“It is not clear to me what obstacles, if any, may be preventing Mr. Anderson from forming an affinity group for LGBT employees,” Sullivan wrote.

In Anderson's detailed interview, however, he contrasted his experience at the county with his last job at TriMet, which he felt was much more open and inclusive.

“The fact that I am not aware of any other LGBTQ employees — when we have such a large workforce — speaks volumes about the level of comfort these employees have at the County.”

Formal complaints are difficult to make

Ludlow, Smith and Anderson have all declined further comment on this issue.

According to the report, Anderson's former colleague, fellow county lobbyist Chris Lyons “believes that if a staff person is aware of an inappropriate remark or discriminatory actions by an elected official, it is particularly difficult to report the conduct. There is a concern that if a staff person makes a complaint about an elected official, you can be fired or fall out of favor with the official, causing the official to rely upon others.”


Timeline of events:

April 22 - Anderson files complaint

May 27 - investigation into complaint concludes

June 2 - Anderson leaves the county

June 11 - County votes to release investigation report


Highlights from the report:

“Chair Ludlow described himself as a compassionate individual who does not personally discriminate against others and for whom allegations that he has made discriminatory remarks are highly distressing. Nonetheless, I found the other witnesses I interviewed to be credible in their assertions that they found remarks that he has made inappropriate or offensive. Chair Ludlow does not anticipate that his remarks will cause offense and concludes his assumption is correct because staff are reluctant to speak up to an elected official about the fact that a statement that he has made has offended them.” (page 13)

"Rather, the weight of the evidence suggests that it was Commissioner Smith's frustration with the legislative process surrounding the land use grand bargain bill that prompted her criticisms. Commissioner Smith's criticisms were unfair, as she lacked information about either the lobbyists' ages or their experience, which is impressive. It is also apparent that the unsatisfactory outcome for the County was due to factors well beyond the lobbyists' control. However, the evidence does not support a conclusion that her criticisms were discriminatory.” (page 7)

"While I do not find that Chair Ludlow's statements violated Mr. Anderson's constitutional right to privacy, I do find that his inclusion of details regarding Mr. Anderson's medical emergency in statements made at the legislative dinner reflect a lack of sensitivity to the fact that Mr. Anderson might find it embarrassing to have details regarding his medical emergency shared with an audience of people with whom he works professionally on a day-to-day basis. While I do not doubt that Chair Ludlow made these statements out of concern for Mr. Anderson, he could have simply stated that Mr. Anderson was unable to attend the dinner due to medical issues and wished him a speedy recovery.” (page 10 and 11)


By Shasta Kearns Moore
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