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New Details Emerge About Turmoil at Oregon Lottery: Accusation of Civil Rights Violation Against Iranian-American Employee

Former Director Jack Roberts prepared civil rights complaint against "two rogue commissioners."

In the weeks preceding his April 26 dismissal as director of the Oregon Lottery, Jack Roberts clashed with two of five Lottery commissioners over the promotion of a high-level Lottery employee.

Roberts then expressed his displeasure to Gov. Kate Brown's Lottery advisor over what he saw as commissioners' meddling in personnel decisions, and a possible civil-rights violation against the employee, an Iranian-American.

"A month ago, I expressed to you my concern that Commissioner Liz Carle's personal investigation into Lottery employee Farshad Allahdadi's fitness for appointment as Assistant Director for Sales and Retail Services was not simply inappropriate for a Lottery Commissioner but also risked infringing upon Mr. Allahdadi's civil rights as a member of a protected class under both state and federal law," Roberts wrote in an April 18 email to Heidi Moawad, Brown's Lottery advisor.

(Allahdadi was born in this country to an Iranian father and American mother.)

Carle, a Corvallis lawyer and former prosecutor, is one of five Lottery commissioners. All are appointed by the governor.

In his email to Moawad, Roberts included an extraordinary document—the draft of a civil rights complaint he was contemplating filing against Carle and another Lottery commissioner, Portland Police Bureau Detective Mary Wheat, whom Roberts believed was assisting Carle in investigating Allahdadi.

Allahdadi is a two-year Lottery employee Roberts had hired from the Oregon Liquor Control Commission and proposed to promote to assistant director for sales and retail services, a move that would have required board approval.

Roberts' draft BOLI complaint is remarkable for a couple of reasons: first, he is a former two-term commissioner of the Bureau of Labor and Industries and therefore an expert in workplace civil rights matters. Second, the draft complaint and its six attachments describe a highly unusual situation in which appointed commissioners directly involved themselves in a personnel matter.

Their inquiries, which Roberts says followed anonymous emails questioning Allahdadi's fitness for the promotion, would more normally be handled by the Lottery's human resources department, or, if necessary, the Oregon Department of Justice, which does legal work and personnel investigations for state agencies. Roberts decided to address commissioners concerns by appointing Allahdadi to a newly created position that would not require commission approval.

Here's the conclusion Roberts arrived at in his draft BOLI complaint:

"I am concerned that the totality of these circumstances has created a hostile work environment for Mr. Allahdadi at the Oregon Lottery. As director of the Oregon Lottery, I regret any responsibility I may bear for allowing this poisonous atmosphere to be created by two rogue lottery commissioners," Roberts wrote. "However, I believe the greater portion of the responsibility belongs to those commissioners, Liz Carle and Mary Wheat, who are not under my influence or control and who serve at the pleasure of the governor."

Moawad took issue with Roberts' recollection of their earlier phone call.

"Your characterization that I 'dismissed' your concerns about a civil rights issue is false," Moawad wrote in an April 18 email to Roberts. "As you may recall, I pointed out to you that Commissioner Carle was given permission BY YOU to investigate the employee and I didn't think it was reasonable of you to be upset that she was doing the very thing you'd given her permission to do. Furthermore, you stated to me that the commission should 'rubber stamp' your decisions as the Senate does the Governor's appointments and I shared with you that, in fact, in the most recent round of appointment we had to withdraw a name for lack of support—something that happens with frequency."

Last Tuesday, Roberts was summoned to the governor's office and fired. At that time, the primary issue seemed to be his decision to place another of the agency's assistant director's Roland Iparraguirre on paid administrative leave.

Iparraguirre's attorney, Loren Collins, recently sent a letter to the state asking that his client be allowed to return to work.

Roberts says it is his understanding that the governor's office has turned over his draft BOLI complaint to the Oregon Department of Justice for investigation.

Brown's spokeswoman, Kristen Grainger, defends the commissioners' decision to involve themselves in determining whether Allahdadi was fit for the promotion Roberts proposed.

"The position in question began as one that required commission approval to fill, so in this instance it made sense," Grainger said in an email." As I understand it, Mr. Roberts sought subsequently to have it reclassified to avoid commission oversight."

Grainger confirms, however, that Roberts' concerns are being investigated.

"As soon as he contacted Heidi [Moawad, Brown's Lottery advisor], we took action to engage DOJ to conduct an employment investigation into his allegations," Grainger says. "That action is underway."

Until that investigation is over, the lottery commissioners aren't talking.

"I am aware of the allegations Jack Roberts has made," Carle says. "I disagree with them wholeheartedly. I will cooperate fully with DOJ investigation but will not be able to comment further at this time." Wheat did not respond to a request for comment.

In a statement, Wheat said the issue of Allahdadi's ethnicity was not relevant to her concerns.

"I completely disagree with the statements made by Jack Roberts," Wheat says. "I'm confident that the facts will show that I was required to vote on an Oregon Lottery matter and national origin had nothing to do with my decision."