Report: Kruse engaged in 'unwelcome physical contact'
SALEM — An outside investigator has found State Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, engaged in a "longstanding pattern" of "unwelcome physical contact" with women in the workplace, despite warnings not to touch women at work.
The investigator's report was made public Tuesday, a little more than three months after the first allegations of unwanted touching, made by a fellow state senator, came to light.
Kruse could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.
Two sitting Democratic lawmakers — Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, and Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton — formally accused Kruse of unwanted touching last fall.
Both Gelser and Steiner Hayward had previously raised informal complaints — which remain private — about Kruse's conduct in 2016. Kruse was at the time warned to stop by legislative counsel and legislative Employee Services.
"What is clear and undisputed is that by March 3, 2016, Sen. Kruse was on notice that female Senators had complained about him, and he was given specific guidelines about conduct to avoid with women in the workplace in the future," wrote investigator Dian Rubanoff. "By his own admission, Sen. Kruse chose not to make changes in his behavior because he did not know which females found his conduct to be offensive, and he did not want to change his behavior with everyone."
The investigator interviewed several other women who worked in the Capitol who allege that the senator would hug them, stand too close, touch heads with them, and touch their bodies in ways that made them feel uncomfortable.
The investigator also interviewed Kruse and his colleagues in the Senate.
Kruse said he had "no recollection" about many of the allegations, including specific incidents reported by Gelser, but did not deny certain other claims. For example, he acknowledged that he may have given a young staffer in his office "frontal hugs" and may have told her she was "sexy."
The investigator found that two young women who worked in his office in the 2017 legislative session had reported feeling uncomfortable due to his touching, and that a young lobbyist reported late last year that he had "cupped" her behind at an event at the Governor's Office in September 2017.
"Senator Kruse's hugging and touching of women not only continued after the warnings he received, the evidence shows that the conduct actually escalated during the 2017 session, at least with respect to the two law students assigned to his office," Rubanoff wrote.
In the conclusion to the report, Rubanoff said that she was "concerned that if Sen. Kruse is allowed to stay in the Legislature without specific conditions that he needs to satisfy, and if there is not a continuing prospect of serious consequences if he fails to satisfy those conditions, he may 'fall back into old patterns' again."
Rubanoff also said she was worried about the "message that will be sent to women in the workplace regarding the futility of coming forward if there are not meaningful consequences about Sen. Kruse's failure to heed the warnings he received" from legislative counsel and the legislature's human resources officer after the first informal reports of inappropriate behavior were made in 2016.
Gelser made the first public allegation of Kruse inappropriately touching her in October, followed by Steiner Hayward.
Steiner Hayward declined to comment on the report through her office.
Prior to the report's public posting Tuesday, Gelser said in an email to the Pamplin/EO Capital Bureau that she had not yet read the report and did not want to comment on it before reading it.
The four-member Senate Committee on Conduct, chaired by Sen. Mark Hass, D-Beaverton, will convene Feb. 22. The committee is tasked with recommending what action the Senate should take, if any, and then the Senate as a whole will vote on the recommendation.
In a public letter addressed to Kruse, Gelser and Steiner Hayward and posted on the Legislature's website the evening of Feb. 6, Hass said that the committee would take testimony from the investigator as well as the three senators.
In November, legislative administration signed a contract with Rubanoff, an attorney with of the Lake Oswego firm Peck, Rubanoff & Hatfield PC to investigate the allegations for $290/hour.
Speaker of the House Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said Monday that she thought that the legislature should reassess the way it handles formal complaints and investigations of harassment.
"I think what we have seen in this whole complaint, the two complaints, is, we have a process that on paper sounded really good and is one of the model processes in the country," Kotek said. "It's clunky. It's moving as quickly as it can, but it's just, there are some gaps, and I think we'll have to reassess it after this whole thing runs its course."