Oregon officials have hired outside lawyers to investigate allegations of discrimination, harassment and abusive behavior at the state's economic development agency.
Earlier this week, records show Oregon Department of Justice officials signed a $50,000 contract with the law firm Perkins Coie LLP. Under the agreement, "special assistant attorneys general" at the firm will investigate anonymous complaints made in early April against leaders of Business Oregon.
"There are serious organizational and personnel concerns that have existed at the agency since 2014 but have increasingly intensified over the last 24 months," said an April 5 letter sent to Gov. Kate Brown by a group of current and former Business Oregon employees.
Among the concerns listed:
- The promotion of a "bro club" environment that allowed "hostile emails and text messages" and valued young/male employees over women or more senior workers.
- A pattern of abusive behavior toward older employees, which included "non-performance based demotions, loss of opportunities and the threat of job loss."
- A discriminatory restructuring process carried out to address budgetary issues, that resulted in older employees and women having their jobs eliminated.
- That Business Oregon has ignored its procurement rules in hiring consultants.
"We believe that the seriousness of discriminatory management and leadership issues at Business Oregon warrants immediate formal action in order to fairly represent both the agency and the dozens of voiceless women who have had their lives, health, families, livelihoods, and careers so negatively impacted," said the April 5 letter, first reported by Willamette Week.
The anonymous employees have hired Portland attorney Dana Sullivan to represent them.
In response to the concerns, Brown pledged to investigate and asked the state's Department of Justice to look into the matter. A contract between the DOJ and Perkins Coie, first reported by the Oregonian/OregonLive, shows the state is committed to spending up to $50,000 and paying attorneys up to $630 an hour.
But the contract also stipulates the investigation will be "attorney-client privileged," meaning the results might not be public.