After months of delay, investigators looking into whether state Rep. Diego Hernandez (D-East Portland) engaged in sexual harassment of women working in the Oregon Capitol found that he "more likely than not" engaged in behavior that the women reasonably interpreted as imperiling their jobs.
The report does not officially say whether Hernandez violated Rule 27, the Legislature's sexual harassment policy. That determination and what consequences he may face are left to the Legislature's Conduct Committee.
But the rule defines sexual harassment as "unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature, including but not limited to sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, sexual comment," among "other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature, if…[s]ubmission to the conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of a person's employment."
The investigators found such evidence to back up the claims of three women, none of whom is named in the report.
Details of the report were first reported by Oregon Public Broadcasting today. Hernandez has denied any wrongdoing.
In one case, Hernandez had a "brief romantic relationship" with a woman and continued to pursue her after she made clear she was not interested and thereby "reasonably felt pressured to resume a romantic relationship," the investigators found. (The woman's job involved working with legislators.)
Specifically, investigators believe Hernandez sent her an anonymous gift box called Singles Swag, left flowers for her, showed up at her house unannounced, and continued to invite her to get together repeatedly for months even after she sat down with him, she told investigators, to reiterate that she did not want a relationship with him.
Five months after that meeting (as well as another in which, the woman told investigators, she made him aware that his requests to meet were making her uncomfortable), Hernandez took issue with her decision not to meet with him and criticized her work performance in a text:
"In an October 23, 2017, text, Rep. Hernandez told Subject One that he felt pushed aside by her based on her not taking the time to talk to him," the report states. "In the same text, after saying that Subject One was the perfect person for her job, Rep. Hernandez criticized her work performance. The text noted that both Subject One and Rep. Hernandez were uncomfortable working with each other. Rep. Hernandez's text requested an in-person meeting so they could discuss having a good working relationship."
The woman subsequently told a legislator, who talked to Hernandez, and then the behavior stopped.
The report described another woman, called Subject Four, who also worked in the Capitol, and with whom Hernandez had an intimate relationship. Investigators found "it more likely than not that Rep. Hernandez created an environment that Subject Four reasonably found to be intimidating, hostile, and offensive during their intimate relationship and thereafter."
"We further find that Rep. Hernandez made statements that Subject Four reasonably interpreted as threatening her professional position (which involved work with the Legislature) in late 2017 after the intimate relationship with Subject Four ended," the report states. "We further find that Rep. Hernandez continued to raise an interest in a personal relationship with Subject Four when she endeavored to keep the relationship professional. We further find that Subject Four was reasonably concerned about her ability to conduct work at the Capitol when Rep. Hernandez continued to pursue a personal relationship. We note that Rep. Hernandez did not explicitly connect the nature of their relationship with Subject Four's work at the Capitol."
(Hernandez denied to investigators that she "conducted any business at the Capitol," the report says.)
A third woman alleged that Hernandez had been abusive in a relationship with her. Investigators found it "more likely than not that [her] uncomfortableness working around Rep. Hernandez was reasonable," the report states.
Hernandez downplayed the significance of the report.
"After an exhaustive nine-month investigation, and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, I now, at long last, know all the details of the allegations against me," he said in a a statement. "The Report contains no evidence that personal safety was ever a consideration and in fact I haven't spoken to two of the three subjects in more than three years."
"I had a friendship with the three women reported as 'subjects' prior to becoming a legislator," he said. "None of them have ever worked for me in any way nor were they legislative branch staff while we were dating."
"Dating when you are young is hard," he added. "Some dating relationships do not end definitively, but rather slip away over time. There is often some confusion, mixed signals, and strained emotions. To anyone I made uncomfortable in my personal life, I sincerely apologize. My actions were motivated from honest affection and the best of intentions."
Two allegations against him were found "more than likely" not to actually have happened, including an allegation that Hernandez had a relationship with a member of his own legislative staff and retaliated against another member of his staff for reporting the allegation.
"We find it more likely than not that Rep. Hernandez did not engage in an intimate relationship with a member of his staff, nor did he retaliate against Subject Five for raising concerns about sexual harassment," the report states.
Allegations of harassment against Hernandez have been a divisive political issue for Oregon Democrats since WW revealed last year that a former girlfriend had filed a restraining order against him.
House Speaker Tina Kotek (D-Portland) along with other leaders, including Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner (D-Portland) and now-Secretary of State Shemia Fagan, had called for Hernandez's resignation. Kotek had reassigned Hernandez to a committee this year after he took a leave of absence during which he was not given a committee assignment.
Kotek continues to call for his resignation.
"The conduct committee created a safety plan last year to protect women who courageously came forward about how unsafe and uncomfortable they felt because of Representative Hernandez," says Kotek in a statement. "I believed them then and I believe them now. I'm focused on doing everything I can to ensure people can do their work without the threat of harassment or retaliation."