Legislative committee rejects bullying charge against Tina Kotek

Members of the House Conduct Committee voted Monday mostly on partisan lines to reject a complaint of workplace bullying against Democratic candidate for governor Tina Kotek.

While the committee agreed that Kotek’s strong-arm conduct as speaker of the House while lining up votes for legislation was unwelcome by then-Rep. Diego Hernandez, who filed the complaint, they found that her actions didn’t create a hostile work environment. Based on those findings, the committee determined there was no need to vote on whether Kotek violated misconduct rules and whether she should face punishment.

The four-member committee – with two Democrats and two Republicans – concluded in a 2-2 party-line vote that Kotek’s conduct toward Hernandez while lining up votes for a 2019 bill wasn’t severe or pervasive enough to have impacted Hernandez’ ability to operate in the workplace. Co-chair Raquel Moore-Green, R-Salem, then joined with the two Democrats on the committee in finding that Kotek didn’t retaliate against Hernandez when she called on him to resign a year later as he faced a swirl of sexual harassment allegations.

Portland lawyer Melissa Healy, hired by the state to independently investigate Hernandez’s 2021 complaint, also concluded that Kotek’s actions didn’t rise to the level of misconduct.

In his complaint, Hernandez described Kotek as “spitting,” “enraged” and “red” during a May 2019 conversation where she was trying to get him to vote along party lines to support a bill to dial back near-term costs of public employee pensions. However, Healy found Kotek’s strong-arm tactics to essentially be politics as usual.

Healy also concluded Kotek did not retaliate against Hernandez when she – along with other Democrats – called for him to resign amid the sexual harassment allegations. Hernandez ultimately did resign, after the House Conduct Committee voted to expel him but before the full House considered such an action.

Jamie Goldberg; jgoldberg@oregonian.com; 503-221-8228; @jamiebgoldberg

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