A former deputy legislative counsel filed a lawsuit on Friday against the state of Oregon and the Legislature’s top lawyer, Legislative Counsel Dexter Johnson.
The lawsuit, filed by Gail Stevens in Marion County Circuit Court, alleges that in March 2017, Johnson “terminated [Stevens] from her position with the Office of Legislative Counsel for reporting mismanagement, opposing and reporting unlawful practices, discussing wages and opposing pay inequity.”
The legislative counsel’s office is a non-partisan office staffed by 18 lawyers who draft legislation, provide legal advice to lawmakers and update Oregon’s laws after each session.
Stevens began working in the office in November 2014 and says in her lawsuit that she soon took on responsibility for personnel and human resources issues for the office, in addition to her normal legislative workload.
“During busy periods, plaintiff worked from 12 to 24 hours a day to complete her work assignments, sometimes sleeping on her office floor,” the lawsuit says.
But Stevens claims that when she sought compensation for her extra work, her relationship with her boss soured.
“In June 2015, defendant Johnson informed plaintiff that her work was exemplary and he promoted her to Deputy Legislative Counsel,” the lawsuit says. “Plaintiff then met with defendant Johnson to discuss the possibility of a pay increase for the employment and personnel related work she had been performing as an issue of fairness and pay equity. Additionally, plaintiff explained to defendant Johnson that her personnel work was burdensome due to the past mismanagement of certain matters.”
Stevens claims that after she asked for more money and raised concerns about past practices, she experienced retaliation, some of it related to her gender.
“On February 12, 2016, defendant Johnson publically stated to plaintiff from a busy hallway outside plaintiff’s office, ‘you should not be meeting with [a male legislator] at night,’ implying that plaintiff was engaging in inappropriate conduct,” the lawsuit says. “In fact, plaintiff had never met with the legislator at any time other than during normal business hours within the Capitol. During the same time frame, a male attorney in the Office of Legislative Counsel openly met with legislators at night and did not receive a reprimand from defendant Johnson.”
Stevens also alleges she was held to a different standard than her male peers in other ways.
“Johnson did not provide similar feedback and scrutiny of other attorneys in the office. In fact, he never reviewed or provided negative performance documentation to two male senior deputies with a history of performance deficiencies, one of whom openly displayed physical aggression in the office on at least two occasions, and the other of whom was described by Kate Tosswill, plaintiff’s supervising attorney, as a sexual harasser,” the lawsuit says.
The Legislature’s office of employee services conducted an investigation into Stevens’ concerns. Stevens says in her lawsuit that she was told in January 2017 that the investigator was unable to substantiate her claims. But when Stevens obtained a copy of the investigative report, the lawsuit says, it documented failures on the part of her supervisors and the observation “that plaintiff’s hours were ‘extraordinary’ and ‘unprecedented.'”
Johnson fired Stevens on March 31. Stevens, who is represented by Portland lawyer Judy Snyder, is seeking $950,000 in damages.
Johnson says he has not yet seen the lawsuit Kristina Edmunson, a spokeswoman for the Oregon Department of Justice, which represents the state in lawsuits, said her agency had not yet seen the complaint either.