An Affair Between the Head of Human Resources and a Subordinate Is the Latest Sign of Trouble at the Oregon Department of Justice

The investigative report raises questions about the judgment of an official in effect responsible for watching the watchers.

The director of human resources for the Oregon Department of Justice resigned Aug. 31 after an independent investigation found he had engaged in a sexual relationship with a subordinate.

The investigation followed a complaint filed April 25 by a former senior generalist in the DOJ's HR department against Bob Koreski, her supervisor and the head of the 1,300-employee agency's HR department since 2014.

WW obtained the investigative report through a public records request and is withholding the complainant's name because it was redacted from the report. Reached by phone, the employee declined to comment.

Neither Koreski, who did speak with WW, nor the employee who filed the complaint disputes the findings of the investigative report.

The report looked only at their specific situation, but it comes on the heels of another complaint about misconduct at high levels of the agency, which, among other functions, is supposed to ensure compliance with laws governing workplace harassment. DOJ's 300 lawyers represent the state in court, ensuring that laws, including civil rights, are enforced.

The investigative report raises questions about the judgment of Koreski, an official in effect responsible for watching the watchers. And it presents a test for his boss—Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, who has proclaimed gender equity as a top priority and is up for reelection. (Disclosure: Rosenblum is married to the co-owner of WW's parent company.)

Rosenblum appears to have acted decisively.

In a statement responding to WW's questions about the investigation, Rosenblum and Deputy Attorney General Fred Boss said they determined after reading the investigator's findings that Koreski could no longer continue in his position.

"Upon reviewing the investigator's report, we lost confidence and trust in his ability to serve in a leadership role," Rosenblum and Boss said in a joint statement.

Near the end of 2019, the report says, the employee and Koreski had a lunch meeting where they discussed the possibility of beginning a sexual relationship. The employee's time working for the DOJ was nearing its conclusion. She was slated to begin a new position at a different public agency after the new year.

About two weeks later, on Jan. 10—the woman's last day working for the DOJ—the report says the two had sex in Koreski's office after hours. The sexual relationship continued through March, the report says, and the two remained in an "emotional affair" until sometime in April. During this period, the two had sex in Koreski's office three additional times, as well as in other undisclosed "private locations," the report says.

The independent investigation, conducted by Jill Goldsmith, a Portland lawyer hired by the DOJ, determined that Koreski "invited a female subordinate to engage in a sexual affair with him as she was leaving the DOJ but while she was still employed."

In her complaint, the employee accused Koreski of sexual harassment. Both parties agree the relationship was consensual, but the employee says the power differential between her and Koreski clouded her decision-making. For the six years prior to the affair, the employee viewed her relationship with Koreski—who was her direct supervisor—as one of trust and respect. She valued him as a mentor, the report says.

"[She] claims that by virtue of having worked for Koreski for six years and holding him in a position of respect and esteem, she was more vulnerable to his advances than she would otherwise have been," the report says. "[She] stated that this unequal power relationship significantly impacted her decision to engage in a sexual relationship with Koreski."

In late August, Koreski resigned from DOJ, where he had worked since 2011, according to his LinkedIn account. His last day was Aug. 31.

"I made a terrible personal mistake and deeply hurt the people I love most, my wife and kids—but my job performance was never compromised," Koreski said in a statement to WW. "Any suggestion of such is false. I love my family. I resigned to protect them and move on."

Rosenblum and Boss said the investigation found Koreski's actions didn't meet the agency's standards.

"All DOJ employees are expected to meet the highest standards of professionalism, but those in a leadership role have a particular obligation to model irreproachable behavior and sound judgment," Rosenblum and Boss said. "The HR director resigned in lieu of disciplinary action."

Koreski says the "discipline" that DOJ was going to impose was termination and that he decided instead to resign.

The woman, too, has departed from state government. After her last day with the DOJ in January, she briefly moved on to a new position at another state agency, where she continued to collaborate with Koreski on an investigation. At the same time, the two were still involved. (The investigator concluded that there was no evidence that "their relationship substantively impacted [her] work in that matter.")

One expert on employment law says Koreski's behavior raises questions about the agency's HR department.

"Sexual harassment law requires employers to effectively prevent and correct incidents of harassment," says Keith Cunningham-Parmeter, a law professor at Willamette University. "Obviously, if the person who is conducting the review of harassment claims is alleged to have committed harassment himself, that calls into question the objectivity of the review of other complaints."

The former human resources generalist is one of three state employees who have leveled serious allegations against top DOJ officials since April. (Both earlier cases were first reported by WW.) One of those employees, Shauneen Scott, was a risk manager at the Oregon Department of Administrative Services. She complained that DOJ lawyers ignored her advice to settle cases brought against state agencies and treated women plaintiffs and lawyers dismissively.

In June, a longtime trial lawyer for the Oregon DOJ, Heather Van Meter, filed a tort claim notice accusing her supervisor, Marc Abrams, of sexual harassment. (Abrams leads employment litigation for the state and serves as president of the union that represents lawyers working for the DOJ.)

Embedded in that claim were allegations that Steve Lippold, the chief trial counsel for the DOJ, discriminated against Van Meter because she was a woman and working mother.

Both Lippold and Abrams denied Van Meter's claims when WW contacted them in September.

Unlike Koreski, who was placed on leave pending results of the investigation into his conduct, neither Lippold nor Abrams has been placed on leave during an independent investigation into Van Meter's allegations. That investigation began July 13 and is still ongoing.

Abrams remains one of the lead attorneys representing the state against allegations of sexual harassment at the Oregon Legislature.