Our Opinion: BOLI must act on harassment report
If you're confused about the Oregon Labor Department's report on sexual harassment in the state Capitol, we're not surprised.
Top elected officials, from Gov. Kate Brown on down, have said they are troubled by the 52-page document released on Jan. 3 by outgoing Bureau of Labor and Industries Commissioner Brad Avakian.
And they should be.
BOLI investigators found that legislative leaders (who tried to shut down the probe) have failed to put a stop to some male legislators' penchant for greeting female interns, lobbyists and colleagues with lingering hugs and inappropriate comments. And when women did complain, they all too often were told they had to put up with what amounted to a "hostile, intimidating or offensive workplace environment."
But some of those named in the report, including state Rep. Diego Hernandez, are raising serious questions about the report's thoroughness — with good reason.
Several key lawmakers accused of bad behavior, including Hernandez, were never interviewed. That's particularly vexing in Hernandez's case since he was the one who earlier had asked for an investigation into rumors that he had created a ranked list of female lobbyists, based on their looks.
The Democrat from East Portland, who suspects the rumor was floated by a political rival, was cleared of any wrongdoing by the Oregon legislative counsel following a 2017 investigation.
And yet, the Hernandez "lobbyist list" was mentioned three times in the BOLI report — even though the results of the 2017 investigation were never mentioned and Hernandez was never interviewed during BOLI's five-month probe.
It could be that Avakian's team got rushed as he neared the end of his tenure on Jan. 7. Or it could be that he wanted to settle some political scores on his way out the door. (Avakian lost his bid for secretary of state in 2016 in part because many fellow Democratic leaders kept an arm's length from his campaign.)
Either way, Avakian left the mess for new Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle.
Hoyle, like Avakian, has appropriately recused herself from directly overseeing the case since she, like Avakian, is a former lawmaker.
Still, the report and its fallout offer a great opportunity for Hoyle to disprove some critics, including this editorial board, who worried she was a poor fit for the nonpartisan post. Hoyle had represented Lane County as a fiercely partisan Democrat.
Voters, however, chose Hoyle, who was sworn in last week. She now can demonstrate her impartiality by setting out clear guidelines for her employees overseeing the case: They must follow the facts, regardless of which party they help or hurt.
Last week, her office took a positive step in that direction, announcing that, under the direction of Deputy Commissioner Duke Shepard, BOLI will continue to pursue the civil rights complaint that Avakian filed against the Legislature. BOLI also will bring in a neutral mediator to oversee talks between the two sides.
That's a good move for everyone because, if the parties reach any settlement, it will be made public. Hoyle has said she hopes the first meeting can take place this month.
That gets her and her agency off to a fast — and good — start.
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