Oregon Cities

BOLI settled racial discrimination lawsuit from second ex-employee under Val Hoyle

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The Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries this fall settled a lawsuit from a second former employee who alleged racial hostility under then-commissioner and current U.S. Rep. Val Hoyle.

The state’s $425,000 settlement with Shaina Pomerantz, who worked for the bureau for about eight months in 2020, includes an apology letter from current Commissioner Christina Stephenson, who took office in January.

U.S. Rep. Val Hoyle.

U.S. Rep. Val Hoyle.

Val Hoyle

“The new administration has been an opportunity for BOLI to look inward at our institutional practices and see that we are not fulfilling our commitment to all Oregonians,” Stephenson wrote. “BOLI’s vision is rooted in the belief that every individual deserves to be treated with fairness, respect and dignity. We understand your experience at BOLI fell short of that vision and for that we are truly sorry and want to make amends to redress the damage done to you personally and to your professional reputation.”

Hoyle was not involved in the settlement and was not a party to the case, which was handled by the Department of Justice and current bureau administration, a spokeswoman said.

“In terms of the settlement, I had no influence, was not consulted and do not know why they settled,” Hoyle said in a statement. “You would need to ask the Oregon DOJ.”

Pomerantz, who is Black, was hired as a civil rights investigator by Carol Johnson, who became the first Black woman to serve as the agency’s civil rights administrator in June 2019. Johnson filed a federal equal employment complaint less than a year later and quit in the summer of 2020.

She filed a lawsuit in the Multnomah County Circuit Court, and a jury awarded Johnson $1.7 million in damages in August. Multnomah County Circuit Court Judge Benjamin Suede in October ordered the state to pay another $1.1 million in attorney fees and other costs.

Pomerantz’s Multnomah County Circuit Court lawsuit, filed in June 2021, alleged that other employees of the Bureau’s Civil Rights Decision had accused Johnson of “cronyism” for hiring Pomerantz and two other Black investigators and took bets about which one would leave first. She alleged that white employees disrespected Johnson and their Black coworkers.

After Johnson announced her resignation, Pomerantz said Hoyle invited her and two other Black colleagues to a meeting where she voiced concern for their well-being and told them they were valued members of the agency, but didn’t intervene with other employees.

The complaint said Hoyle told Pomerantz she was doing a good job in October 2020, the same day Hoyle approved extending Pomerantz’s six-month probationary period by another six months. Hoyle later testified in Johnson’s case that she did not meet with Pomerantz in October, but that she told Pomerantz and other employees that they were doing well during a meeting that summer.

Hoyle spokeswoman Kristina Edmunson said Pomerantz’s accusations that only Black employees had their probations extended were untrue.

“Records from BOLI will show that probationary extensions were widely used, and not applied only to employees of color, or any other protected class,” Edmunson said. “Probationary extensions were used even more broadly during the COVID pandemic when remote work made staff training and employee development more challenging. Commissioner Hoyle fostered an inclusive and equitable workplace, expanded hiring opportunities and diversified the agency at all levels.”

Pomerantz and the bureau reached a settlement this fall, shortly before a scheduled jury trial. Details of the settlement became available late last month and haven’t previously been reported.

The letter from current commissioner Stephenson included with Pomerantz’s settlement said she has required bureau administrators to participate in additional training on workplace laws, added several more human resources employees and is in the process of hiring a diversity, equity and inclusion coordinator. The agency also adopted an updated workplace harassment policy on July 1.

Hoyle represents the 4th Congressional District in Eugene and southwestern Oregon, one of the state’s three swing districts. She won the district by 7 points in 2022, but it remains a top target for national Republican groups who perceive weaknesses in her record at the bureau, including the racial discrimination lawsuits and her ties to the owners of cannabis company La Mota. Hoyle pushed for a nonprofit organization founded by La Mota co-owner Rosa Cazares to receive a $550,000 grant for an apprenticeship program. Stephenson canceled the grant this spring.

This story was originally published by the Oregon Capital Chronicle.

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: info@oregoncapitalchronicle.com. Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.


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