Two legal interns who say they were sexually harassed by former state senator Jeff Kruse of Roseburg have filed a lawsuit against him and the legislative assembly.
The complaint, filed Monday in Marion County Circuit Court, seeks $6.7 million in damages and alleges sexual harassment, gender discrimination and negligent supervision.
Kruse told The News-Review Tuesday morning he thinks that’s unreasonable.
“Quite honestly, I think there’s two young ladies that some lawyer has convinced them they can make money. So, how they come up with those figures is beyond me. Millions of dollars? Give me a break,” Kruse said.
The complaint said Kruse had “routinely sexually harassed women at the Capitol and created a sexually hostile work environment for many years, beginning well before the time period when he sexually harassed plaintiffs.”
“Not a single member of legislative leadership, human resource management, or a single senator can likely claim ignorance to that history,” it said.
The plaintiffs said complaints were discouraged through threats of retaliation and harm to the women’s careers.
Kruse resigned in March 2018, after denying reports that he had harassed multiple women, including interns, fellow senators and lobbyists. The issue first became public after Sen. Sara Gelser alleged Kruse had harassed her.
Kruse has repeatedly denied having harassed anyone, and denied it once again on Tuesday, saying the claims being made are “not real.” He asserted the two women who filed the complaint were recruited by Gelser.
“Once again in a world where it’s he said against she said, ‘she’ always wins,” he said.
Both plaintiffs were University of Oregon Law School students at the time they interned with the legislature, and both were assigned to work in Kruse’s office.
One of the plaintiffs had been a legislative fellowship intern in 2016 and 2017 for the legislature’s coastal caucus and was assigned to Kruse because he was a member of that caucus.
She said Kruse called her “little girl,” “my baby lawyer,” and “sexy,” said her husband was really lucky and asked about her sex life at home, placed his hands on her thighs even though she asked him to stop and subjected her to frequent hugs.
She said she started wearing baggy clothes, stopped wearing makeup and trained herself to listen for Kruse’s footsteps so she could try to avoid his alleged sexual advances.
She also said Kruse’s treatment of her led to panic attacks, sleeplessness and other symptoms. She also said she lost a career in politics and gave up on her goal of working on coastal environmental issues because of it.
The other plaintiff worked as an intern in Kruse’s office in 2017. She hoped to pursue a future career in politics, but according to the lawsuit she also gave up on her dreams after Kruse’s alleged treatment. The complaint states that unlike the intern who worked with Kruse, two others in her class went on to win political jobs after their internships.
This second plaintiff said Kruse whispered in her ear, asked about her sex life, asked to be invited to her home late in the evening, wrapped his arms around her and slid his arms down across her breasts and touched her hips. She also said he hugged her tightly and even discussed “that he had been accused of getting too close to women, as he wrapped his arms around her and positioned his nose next to hers.”
The complaint said the working conditions were so unbearable she left her position before the end of the session.
The women are also suing Senate President Peter Courtney, legislative counsel Dexter Johnson and the legislature’s human resources director Lore Christopher, in addition to the state of Oregon as a whole and the legislative assembly.
The plaintiffs said legislative officials were aware for years before they started interning there that Kruse had a pattern of sexually harassing women at the capitol, but assigned them to work with him anyway. They also said they were discouraged from filing complaints about the problem.