The Oregon Legislature is off on the wrong foot in its attempt to address a toxic culture of sexual harassment. It’s unclear who’s at fault, although the federal government shutdown may have played a role. The important thing is to get newly instituted staff training sessions back on track, and quickly, before disillusioned staffers give up and refuse to attend.
Training last fall reportedly went well, but last week, staffers who attended a session conducted by a trainer from the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission walked out, saying the trainer appeared unaware of the culture of harassment that has become a major issue in the Capitol for more than a year.
The trainer reportedly joked about those who file harassment complaints, saying, “as you all know, snitches get stitches.” At another point, the trainer responded to the topic of inappropriate touching in a dismissive manner, saying “we all know this is bad; we don’t need to talk about that.”
It was inappropriate touching that ended the career of veteran State Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, after two female lawmakers accused Kruse of inappropriate behavior two years ago, including groping them in meetings. Kruse denied the allegations, but resigned his seat.
Then, last year, the state Bureau of Labor and Industries declared the Legislature a hostile work environment after an investigation. Legislative leaders have appointed a Committee on Culture to address the issue.
But before that committee can make any headway, it must fix what appears to be a tone-deaf approach by at least one trainer provided by the federal EEOC. According to one report, the trainer who conducted last fall’s successful session was unavailable because of the federal shutdown. State officials requested a different trainer for this week’s session, and representatives of the EEOC visited Salem to meet with legislative leaders on Friday.
Regardless of the reason for last week’s disastrous training session, there can be no excuse for it. If the EEOC can’t provide appropriate training, the state should look elsewhere.