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Legislature: BOLI lacks authority to press harassment case

The Legislature says the Oregon Constitution gives it sole authority to discipline members and to set its internal policies.

PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP - State labor Commissioner Brad Avakian. The Legislature on Friday said Avakian lacks Constitutional authority to press a sexual harassment complaint he filed against the body on behalf of two employees and two interns.SALEM — The Oregon Legislative Assembly Friday argued the state's labor commissioner doesn't have the Constitutional authority to press a sexual harassment complaint he filed against the Legislature on behalf of two legislative employees and two interns.

Outgoing state labor commissioner Brad Avakian has alleged that legislative leadership allowed a hostile work environment to fester at the Capitol and did not act quickly enough in response to various reports of sexual harassment.

Avakian, a Democrat, filed a formal complaint against the legislature Aug. 1, months after the rise of the #MeToo movement and an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against a state senator from Roseburg.

He said the complaint was requested by two employees and two student interns who sought redress for "the harm they suffered and to remedy the intolerable conditions that respondents have failed to correct."

Avakian's complaint alleges that on multiple occasions, reports of sexual harassment were not properly handled by legislative staff, including attorneys and human resource officials.

But in the Legislature's response to the complaint, attorney, Edwin Harnden of the Portland firm Barran Liebman said Avakian's Bureau of Labor and Industries lacks jurisdiction.

"BOLI has no constitutional authority to discipline or remove members of the Assembly or to amend the Assembly's internal policies. BOLI lacks jurisdiction for the redress it seeks because the Oregon Constitution vests exclusive authority over the discipline and oversight of legislators within the legislative chamber those legislators serve in," Harnden wrote on behalf of the Legislature."BOLI has limited jurisdiction to seek redress against employees of the legislature or members of the legislature in their individual capacity."

Despite this, the response contends, the Legislature has voluntarily provided hundreds of pages of publicly available documents outlining its response to incidents of sexual harassment in the state Capitol.

Hardnen emphasized that legislative leadership were taken aback by Avakian's complaint and said that corrective measures were already in progress.

"These issues were already in the open, and corrective measures were substantially and publicly underway before the commissioner's complaint was filed," the response states. "It is for this reason that the Assembly is at a loss to understand why the commissioner's complaint was filed after months of what the legislative leadership believed to be genuine cooperation directly with BOLI and Commissioner Avakian, as well as how the commissioner's complaint can allege a lack of appropriate action to correct the issues."