Third lawsuit accuses Oregon labor bureau of discrimination
The Oregon state agency charged with ensuring private employers follow the law is facing another accusation of workplace discrimination from within its ranks.
The Tribune first revealed in May that the Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries' former Civil Rights Division chief, Carol Johnson, said she was forced out due to the racial animosity exuded by her subordinates — investigators who decide if working stiffs' bias complaints are valid.
Johnson and another ex-Civil Rights investigator, Shaina Pomerantz, seek a combined $3 million in damages from BOLI. In response, Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle hired a law firm to conduct an independent investigation into the incidents, which both involve Black women.
In the third suit, a former office specialist for BOLI's Training and Apprenticeship Division says he was denied accommodation for his disability — an anxiety disorder triggering panic attacks — and was retaliated against by a supervisor.
Andrew Haro, who the lawsuit says is of African and Hispanic descent, began working for BOLI in Multnomah County in August 2019. Haro disclosed his disability to a supervisor, division administrator Stephen B. Simms, in February 2020, according to the suit, and allegedly had his probationary period extended in retaliation. Haro was terminated from the job on March 3, 2020.
Simms confused Haro with the only other Latino worker in the department, the litigation claims.
"When (Haro) drew this unconscious bias and racial stereotype to Mr. Simms' attention, Mr. Simms subjected (Haro) to the micro trauma of claiming that he did not know (Haro) was Latino even though (Haro) had expressly told Mr. Simms that he was Latino several times before," according to the 21-page complaint.
After a 24-year career with BOLI, Simms left for a new job as training and outreach manager for the state's Building Code Division in August 2020.
"I have no knowledge of Mr. Haro being subjected to any type of discriminatory behavior at BOLI," Simms said. "I have no recollection of having confused Mr. Haro with any other employee at BOLI and if I had done so, I would have immediately apologized for the same."
Haro seeks $400,000 in damages from the state of Oregon. His suit, first filed in circuit court by Portland attorney Daniel Snyder, has since been moved to federal court.
These particular allegations won't be scrutinized as part of the outside review into the Civil Rights Division, BOLI says.
"It really felt very different from these other lawsuits," BOLI spokeswoman Anne Marie Levis said. "It wasn't against the culture, it was against the manager."
Commissioner Hoyle has appointed BOLI chief prosecutor Cristin Casey to serve as interim director of the Civil Rights Division, but is awaiting the results of the review before implementing further changes.
"They're not giving lip service to this report," said Levis.
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