State Investigation Finds Claims of Racism Against BOLI “Unsubstantiated”

Two Black former agency employees have separately sued over their treatment.

Above the Oregon Capitol. (Oregon Department of Transportation)

The Oregon Department of Justice today released the results of an independent investigation into allegations of racial discrimination by two Black former employees of the Bureau of Labor and Industries.

The allegations posed a threat to BOLI and its chief, Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle, because it is the state agency responsible for investigating allegations of wrongdoing in the workplace, which frequently involve racial bias.

The investigation, carried out by the Stoel Rives law firm, found the allegations lodged by former civil rights division administrator Carol Johnson and BOLI senior civil rights investigator Shaina Pomerantz “unsubstantiated.”

Johnson, who worked at BOLI from July 2019 through August 2020, alleged that “certain of her subordinates targeted her for disparate treatment and hostility due to her race, color, and gender,” the investigative report said. Johnson also said she was subjected to a series of slights and that “BOLI’s upper management, including Commissioner Hoyle and Deputy Commissioner [Duke] Shepard, gave her no authority to admonish or discipline her staff, further exposing her to discriminatory targeting and harassment.”

Pomerantz, who worked at BOLI from April through December 2020, said she was “subjected to a racially hostile work environment and disparate treatment by her CRD colleagues and managers.”

The investigator, Stoel Rives lawyer Brenda Baumgart, interviewed 20 agency employees for her report.

Neither of the complainants agreed to be interviewed for the investigation, but both have filed lawsuits against BOLI in Multnomah County Circuit Court. Diane Sykes, who represents Johnson, says “the evidence will bear out at trial” but declined to comment further. J. Ashley Albees, Pomerantz’s attorney, was in a hearing and could not comment.

One unusual detail in Baumgart’s report: Although Johnson alleged that she received a bag of feces in the mail from a person she suspected was a BOLI employee, the investigation discounted that claim.

“Ms. Johnson did receive a package of cow feces from a company doing business as ‘Poop Senders’ that markets ‘the ultimate gag gift’ and guarantees anonymity, [but] there was nothing in the record to substantiate any nexus between this incident and any BOLI employee or Ms. Johnson’s employment at BOLI,” the investigation concluded.

In a statement, Hoyle, the former Oregon House Majority leader from Eugene who is up for reelection next year, expressed gratitude for the investigation’s findings.

“This report affirms our work, our commitment, our values, and our direction,” Hoyle said.

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.