City Attorney Robert Taylor Accused of Unprofessional Behavior Toward Women

Taylor’s behavior is undermining the city’s efforts to resolve litigation with the U.S. Department of Justice over police use of force, according to emails obtained by WW.

WORKPLACES: Portland City Hall (foreground) and the Pacwest Center. (Brian Burk)

The City Attorney’s Office has given WW a series of emails containing complaints of unequal pay in the office and unprofessional behavior by City Attorney Robert Taylor.

The emails, produced in response to WW’s public records request, are heavily redacted and do not include the names of what appear to be at least two separate complainants. One is identified as a BIPOC woman and, based on the circumstances outlined in the emails, was working with Taylor on ongoing litigation with the U.S. Department of Justice regarding police use of force toward people with mental illness.

According to the woman, a federal attorney conveyed concerns that Taylor was “condescending and patronizing.” The woman says Taylor then interrupted court-ordered mediation among a judge, the city and the Department of Justice attorneys to discuss “interpersonal issues” and “gossip.”

“The only purpose of Robert’s ill-timed monologue appeared to be to humiliate and intimidate me and AUSA [redacted]. And he was successful. Not only was Robert’s behavior extremely unprofessional and detrimental to the case and the ultimate resolution of the Settlement Agreement, but also bullying,” the woman said in an email reviewed by WW.

On Jan. 24, she filed a complaint with the city’s Bureau of Human Resources, according to an email. “I have never felt so embarrassed and bullied in my life, let alone career,” she said. Her career spans nearly two decades, according to the emails.

“I am grateful for the excellent team of legal professionals in the City Attorney’s Office doing important work each day to serve the City, and I decline to comment on personnel matters,” Taylor said in a statement to WW.

The allegations are significant for several reasons. The City Attorney’s Office oversees some of the most delicate policy matters in Portland government—including the settlement with the feds over police brutality toward people with mental illness, a decadelong negotiation. It is also worth noting that similar allegations by a deputy city attorney scuttled the tenure of former mayoral aide Sam Adams, who was working with that office to find legal avenues to reduce street camping.

In a separate incident, the same woman accused Taylor of “shushing” her in a meeting with Portland Police Bureau brass. “It was so awful that several command level PPB staff present at the meeting checked in with me after the meeting to make sure I was okay, as did a paralegal and attorney from CAO,” she writes. Taylor later apologized.

One woman has already left the office due to “this disparate treatment,” the woman said.

In another email included in the batch of complaints sent to WW, chief deputy city attorney Heidi Brown said she was obliged to report to the head of Human Resources that an attorney in the office had received a text “accusing Robert of being sexist.”

In another complaint, a person who appears to be a woman (again, the name is redacted, but she says in one of the emails that she’d given a speech for Oregon Women Lawyers) says she was stripped of work after asking for higher pay, and was told by Taylor that she was at least several years away from a promotion because she was perceived as “unstable.” Taylor later apologized and recommended the complaint be referred to an outside facilitator.

The woman ultimately declined to move forward with an official complaint, according to an email on March 23. “Please understand that this is not due to the fact that I no longer believe that Mr. Taylor behaved inappropriately. It is only because I cannot deal with an investigation that will potentially lead to retaliation/termination/demotion/lack of promotion, and inevitably be detrimental to my legal career in Portland. City Attorney Taylor is much more powerful than I am,” she wrote.

She is still pursuing a pay equity complaint, the email notes.

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