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2019 independent investigation found no validity to complaints of hostile work environment

PMG FILE PHOTO - Gresham City Hall

Allegations that a member of the Gresham Equity Action Team told a white male police officer "the opinion of middle-aged white males did not matter," were found to be unsubstantiated by an independent review into the matter.

A 32-page investigation from Barran Liebman LLP, provided to The Outlook by an anonymous source, found the offending statement had not been said during a city equity meeting in 2017. The third-party review also refuted assertions that an email by Gresham City Manager Erik Kvarsten and informational links provided on an internal city web page had created a hostile workplace and culture of "anti-police" and "anti-white."

The investigation's findings were submitted to the Gresham City Attorney and Human Resources Director on May 3, 2019.

The complaints, penned by members of the Gresham Police Department in 2018, focused on an Aug. 3, 2017, meeting where the comment allegedly had been made. It was hosted by the Gresham Equity Action Team, which was an employee-led volunteer group.

According to the investigating document, Sgt. Ted Van Beek attended the meeting, sharing his experiences of race relations within the city. In an interview following the meeting, Van Beek said Robyn Stowers, a city employee and member of the Equity Team's Steering Committee, told him his opinions did not count and that only people of color should be involved in reviewing the city's budget for inequities.

Van Beek did not file a complaint with the city, though he did report the incident to Capt. Tim Gerkman. He also allegedly requested not to be required to attend future Equity Team meetings because he was "incredible uncomfortable." Three other officers, including Gerkman, filed complaints about the interaction, as well as other messages within the city that were creating a hostile work environment. Gerkman would later withdraw his complaint.

In an interview with the third-party team, Stowers adamantly denied saying "the opinions of middle-aged white men did not matter," and that she was focused on bringing people together to talk about equity. She told investigators she could have said something about needing to elevate voices that had not been so prominent.

Other attendees of the meeting backed Stowers' memory of the situation. Kvarsten, who attended, did not recall hearing anything like the complaints alleged. He told the third-party team he later apologized to Van Beek for not taking note or addressing the alleged comment at the time.

The investigation also found Van Beek erroneously remembered Deputy City Manager Corey Falls in attendance at the meeting. Falls was not at the Aug. 3 gathering.

The conclusions of the investigation found it "more likely than not" that Stowers did not make the offending statement. Instead, the documents found it likely she said something to the effect of, "we have had plenty of white male involvement and it's time to hear from people of color and women."

The investigation also found the language used in the city manager's equity message did not violate the city's discrimination and harassment policy, nor did links shared on internal city web pages.


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