Former Oregon Capitol official threatens lawsuit

Oregon Redistricting Talks Adjourn Early Over Covid Case
BRIAN HAYES

Oregon State Representatives congregate in the House, prior to the meeting being adjourned due to a COVID-19 exposure, during a special legislative session for redistricting congressional maps, Tuesday, Sept. 21, 2021 at the Oregon State Capitol in Salem, Ore.

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — A former Oregon official who was tasked with fielding harassment complaints in the state Capitol before resigning in June says he was pushed out for revealing flaws in the Legislative Equity Office and is now threatening to sue the Legislature and top lawmakers for retaliation.

Oregon Public Broadcasting reports attorneys for Nate Monson, the former Legislative equity officer, say they are prepared to reveal more if state leaders don’t settle before a suit is filed.

In a tort claim notice sent to top lawmakers and state officials on Monday, Monson’s attorneys, Kim Sordyl and Michael Fuller, go into additional details about allegations Monson made in June — when he quit his role after just two months on the job, amid concerns he’d lied on his resume.

Prior to the resignation, officials said they learned that Monson had misrepresented his work history on his resume and there were concerns about mismanagement at his former job leading an Iowa nonprofit. Monson’s lawyers described the investigation into his resume as a “witch hunt” that was only pursued after he raised concerns about how the Legislature handles harassment. Monson resigned in June.

“Mr. Monson was qualified to take over and repair the Legislative Equity Office’s processes and systems,” the letter says, adding that “obstacles like cover-ups, dishonesty, intentional foot-dragging and obfuscation” came from legislative leaders and staff.

Monday’s notice says Monson is willing to settle his claims before filing a lawsuit “in hopes of resolving this matter with as little expense as possible to the taxpayers.”

In 2019 — a year after allegations of sexual misconduct rocked the Oregon Legislature — lawmakers agreed to create a new equity office, tasked with accepting complaints, kickstarting investigations by outside attorneys and offering process counseling to help people who’ve been subjected to improper treatment understand their options.

The legislative equity officer position held by Monson in 2021 was a central piece in the new system. Under the old system, many of the duties had been handled by attorneys and human resources officials with close ties to lawmakers.

But during Monson’s resignation, he depicted that the process for dealing with allegations of harassment was in disarray.

Monson said his predecessor in the job had failed to document and follow up on complaints and had allowed legal bills to languish to the point that investigations had to be paused.

When Monson complained to the state’s top legislators, Senate President Peter Courtney and House Speaker Tina Kotek, the letter says, “Kotek called Mr. Monson and told him that she knew there were many problems in the Equity Office, and kept saying ‘whatever you do, just fix it.’”

According to Monson, Jessica Knieling, the Legislature’s interim human resources director, downplayed the allegations.

Knieling on Monday called Monson’s claims “false and inaccurate.”

“I trust the process will demonstrate I have at all times comported with my responsibilities under our rules and the law,” she wrote in an email. “Unfortunately, with pending litigation I am not able to comment further.”