Portland Public Schools Botched Investigation This Year into Sexual Harassment Allegations

Former Roosevelt football coach Adam Kennybrew accused of "numerous inappropriate comments," "sexually explicit, inappropriate communications," and "unwanted physical contact with female" staff.

Roosevelt High School (Hunter Murphy)

Portland Public Schools botched an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against former Roosevelt High School football coach Adam Kennybrew.

"The Kennybrew investigation was poorly planned and executed," Lisa Greenfield, an outside lawyer hired by PPS, found after reviewing the district's response to complaints about the former coach.

The allegations against Kennybrew included that he "made numerous inappropriate comments, sent sexually explicit, inappropriate communications, and solicited and initiated unwanted physical contact with female members of the counseling department,"  according to a Oct. 8 memo prepared by Greenfield.

Greenfield's memo blames both Roosevelt administrators and the school district's Human Resources department for mishandling the investigation.

It's not clear from the document exactly what Kennybrew was found to have done—or what effect the failures of the investigation had on PPS's decision to discipline the football coach with a letter of reprimand.

WW reported last month that Kennybrew had been investigated for sexual harassment, including sending sexually explicit texts. Although he was given a letter of reprimand, Kennybrew denied to WW that he had committed sexual harassment.

Kennybrew resigned his coaching post at Roosevelt abruptly in August, but continued to work for PPS, splitting his time between Roosevelt and the PPS athletics department. (It is unclear whether Kennybrew's resignation from coaching was related to complaints against him.)

It appears from Greenfield's memo that PPS investigators gathered evidence that Kennybrew sent at least one "sexually explicit text message" to a staff member at Roosevelt in an exchange he initiated.

The staff member was forced to read the message she had received during her interview with Roosevelt principal Filip Hristic, the memo says.

And at least two female Roosevelt employees reported "unwanted hugs," from Kennybrew and one of them also reported unwanted kisses, according to the memo.

One of the women tried to avoid a hug but Kennybrew "picked me up off the ground and gave me [a] strong, overbearing hug," according to her written statement. The woman also noted she'd reported her concerns about "a very hostile work environment" to her assistant principal as far back as October of last year.

The Greenfield memo raises the possibility that Hristic elected a minor punishment for Kennybrew because Hristic considered the women who complained complicit.

According to the Greenfield memo, Hristic discussed "the mutuality of the text exchange" in the interview with the woman who received the text. Hristic denied blaming the woman.

But according to the memo, another woman said she was made to feel at fault when at the conclusion of the investigation a letter from the principal directed her to "not engage in sexually explicit discourse with staff members during school hours or on school grounds."

Hristic didn't respond to voicemails left for him this afternoon.

PPS spokesman David Northfield declined to say whether the PPS employees who mishandled the Kennybrew investigation have been held accountable.

Instead, Northfield said the district is considering making changes to its procedures for addressing complaints.

"The district wants people to feel that when they raise concerns they will be treated fairly, and that they will be heard," Northfield says.

"We had questions about whether that happened in this case, which is why PPS engaged an outside investigator to help us learn how we as a district can do better," he says. "Our focus is on having an organizational culture that supports people who make complaints and that their concerns will be taken seriously."

The female Roosevelt High School employees told Greenfield they would be less likely to report problems in the future, and that they suffered extreme emotional distress from the investigation. One of the women took a medical leave after suffering panic attacks at the end of last school year, the memo says, and another went on anti-depressants.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.