SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Two former interns for a former Oregon state senator who resigned after being accused of sexual harassment have sued him, the Legislature, the Senate president and others, seeking millions of dollars in damages.
The lawsuit by Anne Montgomery and Adrianna Martin-Wyatt claims the leaders of the Legislature showed “callous indifference” to former Sen. Jeff Kruse’s conduct. The suit says they took complaints about Kruse’s cigarette smoking more seriously than harassment allegations.
Kruse is the only Oregon lawmaker to have fallen since the #MeToo movement began, but his case continues to have repercussions. The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries in January filed a civil rights complaint against the Legislature, accusing its leaders of allowing harassment to persist. That complaint is being mediated while bills are working their way through the Legislature aimed at strengthening efforts against harassment and improving reporting of misconduct.
Kruse resigned last year after an investigation determined he had touched women, including two female senators who filed complaints against him, in the Capitol inappropriately. Kruse told investigators his behavior was “instinctual” but later proclaimed his innocence. In an interview Tuesday with his hometown newspaper, Kruse said some lawyer convinced the interns they can make money and dismissed the accusations as “not real.”
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“Millions of dollars? Give me a break,” Kruse told The News-Review of Roseburg.
Senate President Peter Courtney said Tuesday through a spokeswoman that he has no comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit, dated Monday and filed in the court of Marion County where the state Capitol is located, also names the Legislature’s top lawyer Dexter Johnson and human resources director Lore Christopher. It says the defendants allowed the interns to be placed in Kruse’s office, despite knowing they would be harassed.
“Senior leaders and their advisers charged with protecting the Capitol work environment failed to prevent or remedy Kruse’s conduct despite it being well-known for years,” the interns charged in their lawsuit.
When Kruse repeatedly smoked cigarettes in his office, in violation of a Capitol no-smoking rule, Johnson initiated five complaints and advocated civil penalties. The door to Kruse’s office in the Capitol was even removed.
“Yet, at no time did those same defendants take any similar action to protect women from Kruse,” the lawsuit says.
Courtney removed Kruse from his committee assignments in October 2017, thus depriving him of having a voice as bills are formed, as punishment for allegations he repeatedly and inappropriately touched Sen. Sara Gelser. But by then, the interns were already gone.
Courtney, Johnson and others could have reduced Kruse’s access to women through desk placement and committee seating assignments, set explicit conduct expectations, installed cameras in his office, ensured he was assigned no interns, and asked state agencies to investigate and take action, the former interns said in their lawsuit.
Montgomery was a law student in the Oregon State Capitol from November 2016 through August 2017, including for Kruse. He allegedly called Montgomery “little girl” and “sexy,” asked her about her sex life, touched her thighs and often hugged her, with his hand lingering around her waist, according to the lawsuit.
In response, Montgomery removed his hands from her body, wiggled out of his grasp, stopped wearing makeup and wore baggy clothes, the lawsuit says. She now suffers from post-traumatic stress, the lawsuit says.
Martin-Wyatt, also a law student, was an intern in Kruse’s office from January through late April 2017. He subjected her to inappropriate touching and questions about her sex life, the lawsuit alleges. She left because of “unbearable” working conditions, the lawsuit says.
Montgomery seeks damages of a maximum of $4 million, to be determined by a jury, for physical and emotional injury, humiliation and other issues, and attorney fees.
Martin-Wyatt is asking for a maximum of $2.7 million and attorney fees.
Kruse on Tuesday said Montgomery and Martin-Wyatt were egged on by Gelser.
“Once again in a world where it’s he said against she said, she always wins,” he told The News-Review.
Follow Andrew Selsky on Twitter at https://twitter.com/andrewselsky