Speaker of Oregon House calls for Rep. Hernandez to resign over sexual harassment charges
State Rep. Diego Hernandez was ordered Monday, May 4, not to have any contact with seven women while an investigation proceeds into allegations of sexual harassment and creating a hostile workplace.
Later that day, Speaker of the House Tina Kotek House Speaker Tina Kotek called for Hernandez to resign from the Legislature.
"I am deeply concerned that members of the broader Capitol community feel unsafe or subject to retaliation by Rep. Hernandez," Kotek said in a press release after the action. "I want those individuals to know they did the right thing by coming forward, and I am grateful to the House Conduct Committee for taking swift action to impose the measures they deemed necessary to address immediate safety concerns."
The House Committee on Conduct approved the no-contact order as one of two interim measures affecting Hernandez, a two-term Portland Democrat who told colleagues in an April 2 letter he was taking a leave of absence from his legislative duties. He did so after Willamette Week reported that he was the subject of a restraining order alleging violent behavior while drunk.
"I supported Rep. Hernandez's announcement last month that he would be taking a leave of absence from his duties to seek guidance and focus on his physical and emotional health, and removed his committee assignments to facilitate that leave," Kotek wrote. "I believe Rep. Hernandez should resign from the Legislature and focus completely on getting the support he needs."
"I believe Rep. Hernandez should resign from the Legislature and focus completely on getting the support he needs." — Speaker of the House Tina Kotek
The order sought March 3 by Andrea Valderrama, chair of the David Douglas School Board, was lifted on March 25.
Hernandez denied the earlier allegation, which stemmed from a 2019 incident.
The restraining order is not connected with the latest allegations.
The committee also required Hernandez to give 24-hour notice to the Legislative Administration Office before he enters the Capitol in Salem. That action is largely symbolic because the building has been closed to the public since March 18 as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Legislative committees have met through video conferences.
Hernandez was elected in 2016 to the District 47 seat that covers East Portland, including the Wilkes, Glenfair and Centennial neighborhoods, primarily north of Division Street. He is unopposed in the May 19 primary for a third term. He currently has no interim committee assignments. He is on the Reynolds School Board.
The committee's interim measures are in effect until the investigation is completed.
The committee, which has two Democrats and two Republicans, met Monday to hear reports from legislative equity officer Jackie Sandmeyer and a third-party investigator assigned to look into the complaints. They involve allegations of verbal and physical harassment.
Sarah Ryan, a principal in the Portland law firm of Jackson Lewis, said she had interviewed one of the women but not the other yet. She said one feared retaliation by Hernandez and the other feared for her physical safety.
Five more women have since approached the committee.
"I am not prejudging the result of the investigation," Ryan said.
Hernandez did not take part in Monday's public proceeding.
The no-contact order affects both Hernandez and the seven women. If someone intervened with the women on behalf of Hernandez while the order is in effect, it would be considered noncompliance on Hernandez's part and subject to disciplinary action by the House.
Three years ago, Hernandez was accused of keeping a list of female lobbyists based on attractiveness. Legislative investigators were unable to turn up evidence of such a list, but the allegation resurfaced in a 2019 report by the state Bureau of Labor and Industries alleging that the Oregon Legislature was a hostile workplace.
The bureau and the Legislature reached a settlement later in 2019.