Sen. Gelser says Kruse returned to Capitol after agreeing to leave amid harassment case

State Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, criticized Oregon's Legislature over its handling of sexual harassment training and said state Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, violated a key agreement amid his sexual harassment case.

State Sen. Sara Gelser, D-Corvallis, criticized Oregon's Legislature over its handling of sexual harassment training in a recent interview with KATU News.

Gelser is one of more than 10 women who accused state Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg, of inappropriate or unwelcome touching before he announced plans to resign.

Gelser also told KATU Kruse violated a key agreement and that many women still feel unsafe in the workplace.

Kruse has denied allegations made by an independent investigator in a bombshell report sent to lawmakers in early February.

In it, the investigator described a "longstanding pattern of Senator Kruse engaging in unwelcome physical contact toward females in the workplace."

The day after the report was made public, Oregon Senate Republicans sent out a news release saying they accepted Kruse's "offer to leave the Capitol building ... pending the conclusion of the process."

Gelser said he broke that agreement by returning to the Capitol the next day, Feb. 8. She tweeted, "Why is Senator Kruse in the building today? #promisespromises #orpol #orleg," that morning.

"And that's the point of 'no contact,'" she told a KATU reporter. "The idea that in these situations the individual who has been the offender gets to pick and choose when to follow the rules and what's appropriate and not appropriate is just an extension of this problem."

"Senator Kruse came to the Capitol early that morning to get his personal belongings," Tayleranne Gillespie, the communications director for Senate Republicans, said via email. "He then resigned later that afternoon."

Kruse's resignation takes effect on March 15.

Gelser, who first filed an informal complaint about Kruse nearly two years ago and a formal complaint last year, said the system is broken.

"If the goal is to protect people from being held accountable for inappropriate behavior the process works great," she explained.

Gelser also said the sexual harassment training that lawmakers and their staff are required to go through every January needs improvement.

This year, unlike before, workers from the executive branch and lobbyists were invited to attend.

"There was a lot of discussion about reporting, about the importance of reporting right away," said Gelser. "I believe that the emphasis of a training needs to be on 'Don't harass people.' By the time someone has to make a report, it's too late. I think a bigger focus on why it’s important to respect people and their space is incredibly important. I know one of the things that was stated in the hearing was to be careful because you could end up with an article in the Oregonian and that could be embarrassing or cause damage to your reputation. I am much more concerned about the damage that it causes to the person that’s been violated.”

Dexter Johnson, the head attorney for the Legislature, told KATU there's more to the sexual harassment training than the hour-plus session in January which he said entailed "learning about the protections that our legislative branch personnel rules give to legislators and staff, learning about what is meant by harassment, which is more than just sexual harassment. It is workplace harassment and discrimination as well and learning what you can do if you feel you’re experiencing that kind of harassment.”

Johnson said separate, small-group classes, many of which are scheduled after the legislative session, address Gelser's area of concern.

"We do some role-modeling where we demonstrate behavior that is not wanted," he explained. "The Legislature has a goal of providing a harassment-free workplace."

Gelser said she's unaware of any small-group sexual harassment training, which Johnson said is new this year.

In the wake of the Kruse case, lawmakers asked Oregon's Law Commission to review the Legislature's harassment and misconduct policies. Johnson said the commission is expected to make recommendations early next year.

Kruse did not immediately respond to multiple emails and voicemails requesting comment for this story.

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