Multnomah County and State Pay $125,000 to Former Prosecutor to Settle Claims of Gender Discrimination

It’s the latest high-profile exit by a female prosecutor under the tenure of DA Mike Schmidt, who requested the county launch an investigation that ultimately concluded the claims of discrimination were unfounded.

COFFEE TIME: Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt (right) at a legislative breakfast. (Motoya Nakamura / Multnomah County)

A 20-year veteran prosecutor accused Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt and his office of gender discrimination and retaliation in a draft legal complaint dated in March and now obtained by WW. Officials paid her $125,000 to settle the allegations.

That prosecutor, Nicole Harris, recently left the office. In March, she demanded over half a million dollars in a letter submitted to the county. In recent weeks, she was paid $125,000 to settle the accusations—half from the county and half from the state, which employs Schmidt.

“I am proud of my lengthy career in the DA’s office and I hope that the fact that I and others have raised these issues will make the path to leadership easier for younger women who want to be career DA’s,” Harris said in a statement to WW distributed by her attorney.

The county commissioned a law firm to look into Harris’ complaints last year that ultimately determined they were unfounded. A spokeswoman for Schmidt’s office, Liz Merah, said settling was the most financially responsible option. “Settling this case provides closure and allows us to move on as an agency,” she tells WW.

Harris is only the latest prosecutor to threaten the Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office with a gender discrimination lawsuit. Former prosecutor Amber Kinney filed a tort claim notice with the office last July, saying she was repeatedly passed over for promotion and retaliated against when she spoke out about the office’s failure to promote women. Results of an internal survey obtained by WW in March showed that woman were less happy with their jobs at the office than their male counterparts, with one commenter noting that the office has “a culture that favors white men.”

Harris’ 39-page draft legal complaint makes similar accusations, although in much more detail. Harris was hired in 2003 by the DA’s office and was eventually promoted to its highest nonsupervisory role. But despite glowing performance reviews in recent years, she could not obtain a coveted supervisory role and watched men with less experience promoted over her.

One of those men, she claims in her legal complaint, told her that his promotion over her was “comical” and that he did not intend to provide her with meaningful supervision.

In her legal complaint, she says management made the decision to pass her over for promotion because of her gender and the fact she was on maternity leave. After she complained, she alleges, Schmidt began promoting more woman but iced her out. Harris says she was told by a superior that Schmidt was “not going to want to do something when someone is holding a gun to his head telling him what to do.”

Last year, the county commissioned the law firm Barran Liebman to look into Kinney’s and Harris’ allegations. In a report obtained by WW, the law firm concluded that Harris had been passed over because she “had not demonstrated a strong work performance in the long term,” lacked “requisite temperament to work with newer [deputy DAs].” Some people interviewed noted that Harris had “a reputation in the office for making aggressive charging decisions.”

It notes that, as of February, “Schmidt has promoted six female DDAs and six male DDAs to Level 4 [supervisory] positions.”

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