More Harassment In City Hall?

An aide to Mayor Charlie Hales says chief of staff Gail Shibley discriminated against him for being HIV-positive.

A staffer in Mayor Charlie Hales' office has filed a state civil rights complaint alleging that the mayor's chief of staff, Gail Shibley, pressured him into revealing that he is HIV-positive and then verbally harassed him because of his illness.

In a complaint filed Jan. 14 with the state Bureau of Labor and Industries, the staffer says Shibley called him a "skank" and said his previous boss, former Mayor Sam Adams, was also a "skank."

The Hales staffer says Shibley made illegal inquiries into his HIV-positive status, harassed him after learning of his disease, and retaliated against him for complaining about her actions.

The complaint also names City Human Resources Director Anna Kanwit, who the staffer says discouraged him from filing a complaint against Shibley. 

This creates more trouble for Hales and Shibley, who allowed a sexual harassment allegation against one of Hales' aides to linger last year until it blew up into a larger controversy.

Shibley is herself a lesbian and announced her sexual orientation publicly in 1991, when she joined the Oregon House of Representatives, making her the first openly gay member of the state Legislature.

Hales spokesman Dana Haynes says the mayor has no comment about the allegations in the complaint.

"We are familiar with the complaint," Haynes says. "The mayor thinks it's inappropriate for him to have any public comment while it's under investigation."

Haynes says Shibley remains on the job during the investigation of the BOLI complaint.

Shibley denies the allegations.

“I respect the process,” Shibley tells WW. “These charges are groundless. I hope you will pay attention to the responses the city and I provide.” 

WW is not naming the Hales staffer who made the complaint, because doing so would violate his medical privacy. 

The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries investigates civil rights and workplace violations. The complaint alleges Shibley's actions date back to Jan. 16, 2013, shortly after Hales took office.

The staffer says Shibley asked him why he was wearing a TriMet "Honored Citizen" pass, which gives discounted fares and priority seating to seniors and people with disabilities.

The staffer says Shibley told him he wasn’t old enough for a senior discount and “insisted” that he explain why he had the pass. 

"I burst into tears," the staffer writes, "and explained to Shibley that I qualified for a TriMet pass because I am HIV-positive."

The staffer says Shibley later asked him what it was like to work for Adams.

"Shibley stated to me," the complaint says, "that Adams must have been something of a 'skank,' adding that I must be a 'skank' as well, since working for Adams required a different or special skill set…. [I]t was clear that, based on my status as HIV-positive, Shibley assumed that I am a gay male with an active night life involving people such as Sam Adams."

The staffer says that later in January, one of his co-workers, Rachael Wiggins, began asking him repeatedly about his TriMet pass. He says Wiggins' questions continued through mid-August, when the complainant finally disclosed his HIV status.

Wiggins declined to comment on the complaint.

The staffer says he then reported Wiggins' conduct to Shibley. 

He writes that Shibley told him Wiggins had previously worked for someone who was HIV-positive, and identified the employer by name. The staffer says he "became worried that Shibley might disclose my name and status to others."

The staffer says Shibley told him it was his own fault people were asking him about his health, because he had invited co-workers to his home.

The staffer says he took his concerns to the city's top human resources official, Anna Kanwit.

"When I informed Kanwit that Shibley told me that it was my fault people were comfortable asking me about my disability because I had invited the office to my home, Kanwit responded, '[Shibley] told me she was going to tell you that, and I told her not to.'"

The staffer says Kanwit discouraged him from filing a complaint against Shibley.

"Kanwit agreed that Shibley's conduct was 'indefensible' but discouraged me from filing a complaint with BOLI," the staffer writes. "Kanwit stated that my complaint with her office, Human Resources, would place her in a difficult position because I was a member of the mayor's staff filing a complaint against the mayor's chief of staff, and Kanwit herself answers to the mayor."

Kanwit could not be reached for comment.

Since inheriting the city's top office from Adams, Portland's first openly gay mayor, Hales has been active in supporting same-sex marriage. He marched in last year's Pride Parade, and he and Shibley both appeared at a rally last June to celebrate the Supreme Court's decision to overturn the ban on same-sex marriage in California.

But Hales again faces questions about how he will handle a personnel matter in his office that involves other prominent figures.

Last year, he was slow in responding to allegations about the mishandling of city funds by Jack Graham, then the city's top financial officer. Hales initially blamed the situation on Adams, but later fired Graham.

In June, Hales' top police aide, Baruti Artharee, publicly humiliated Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith by making sexually suggestive remarks to her at an event for Hales' Office of Equity director, Dante James. Hales waited a month to discipline Artharee, then suspended him for a week. Artharee quit in October.

Those two personnel cases sparked calls for the creation of a whistle-blower's office at City Hall. City Auditor LaVonne Griffin-Valade says she wants to set up an independent process to investigate employee complaints. 

WW staff writer Nigel Jaquiss contributed to this story.

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