Two former legislative interns filed a civil lawsuit today in Marion County Circuit Court against Senate President Peter Courtney (D-Salem) former state Sen. Jeff Kruse (R-Roseburg) Legislative Counsel Dexter Johnson, legislative HR Director Lore Christopher, the Legislature and the state of Oregon.
Kruse was forced to resign in February 2018, after several women, including state Sens. Sara Gelser (D-Corvallis) and Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (D-Portland) and other women, including the plaintiffs in the new lawsuit, filed harassment complaints against him.
Both of the women who filed the new lawsuit, Adrianna Martin-Wyatt and Anne Montgomery, were law students when they interned in Kruse's office.
They allege that Kruse's behavior was well-known in the Capitol.
"Not a single member of legislative leadership, human resource management, or a single senator can likely claim ignorance to that history," the lawsuit says.
"The longevity and visibility of Kruse's conduct, and the large number of accusers point to the knowledge and reckless disregard of the defendants, who failed to take action to prevent plaintiffs from experiencing harassment by Kruse that so many had previously suffered."
The lawsuit says that Courtney, Johnson and the Legislature's human resources director, Lore Christopher, turned a blind eye to Kruse's behavior even after they and others filed repeated, explicit complaints per the Legislature's established process.
"Kruse's conduct of physically touching female senators and staff over a period of years was known and/or observed by other Senators and their staff, including by defendants Senate President Courtney, Dexter Johnson and Lore Christopher," the lawsuit says. "This includes numerous incidents of unwanted physical contact toward women, which negatively impacted the terms and conditions of their working conditions compared to male colleagues."
The 44-page complaint details a catalogue of physical and verbal harassment on Kruse's part and a long list of ways in which the plaintiffs suffered and sought help.
"Defendants expressed callous indifference to reports of Kruse's misconduct, and fostered an environment wherein complaints were discouraged with threats of retaliation, legal exposure, and negative career implications," the lawsuit says.
For their efforts, they say, they were variously ignored and called a "traitor."
Both women allege that Kruse repeatedly touched them inappropriately and against their wishes, subjected them to regular sexual banter and asked about their sex lives.
"When Adrianna Martin-Wyatt and Anne Montgomery described the unwelcome conduct to multiple staff members in both the House and Senate, all of whom did not take it seriously and stated that it had been happening for years," the lawsuit says. "Some of the staff members just laughed about it, stating it was not surprising."
Montgomery, who staffed the "Coastal Caucus" of which Kruse was a member, alleges that state Sen. Betsy Johnson (D-Scappoose) was particularly unhelpful.
"Many of the incidents of harassment directed at Ms. Montgomery were known by legislators and/or their staff, including Senator Betsy Johnson," the lawsuit alleges. And when Montgomery attempted to contact Johnson in August prior to Bureau of Labor and Industries complaint about harassment at the Capitol became public, Montgomery alleges Johnson snubbed her "multiple times." (Johnson declined to comment.)
In a statement, Montgomery expanded on her interaction with Johnson.
"What has been most disappointing is that the leadership failed in being supportive after I came forward," Montgomery said.
"For instance, while I was and am still grateful to Senator Betsy Johnson for providing me an office and refuge when the harassment was occurring she ended up being part of the problem too. She is typically not afraid of a fight. Here she did not see the issue. When I called her to tell her that I was going on the record reporting the sexual-harassment her response was, "honestly, Annie unless Kruse threw you down in the hallway and made passionate love to you, I doubt anyone will care." Later, when I had a job offer on the line that would have led to daily interactions with Senator Johnson, I called her to give her professional heads-up that I was participating in the BOLI complaint. She was curt, barely said more than a few words during the call before hanging up. I called her a couple more times, but got no return phone calls. When I attempted to speak with her in person I was told by her staff that it would be best if I left her office. That was heartbreaking to me. I had admired her. I didn't end up getting the job. Women truly need to stand together. I hope to help bring change to the culture. Senator Sara Gelser's courage throughout this provides me inspiration."
The lawsuit, filed by Portland lawyer Charese Rohny, seeks $4 million in damages for Montgomery and $2.7 million in damages for Martin-Wyatt and attorney's fees.
The Oregon Department of Justice, which represents the state and its employees in litigation, declined to comment.