‘OBLIVIOUS’

Groping Lawmaker Said He ‘Didn’t Want to Stop Touching’ Women, Investigator Reports

Oregon’s Jeff Kruse told an investigator he was warned about his inappropriate behavior—but refused to stop because he didn’t know which of his numerous accusers was complaining.

Timothy J. Gonzalez/AP

Oregon State Sen. Jeff Kruse groped his colleagues and engaged in a pattern of “unwelcome physical contact toward females in the workplace,” which only escalated after he was warned to stop by legislative officials, according to a damning report made public late Tuesday.

His behavior, the outside investigation revealed, created a hostile work environment, but the legislator was “oblivious” to the effect his actions were having on those around him—even after he was told to stop.

On certain occasions, Kruse’s contact with female lawmakers was even caught on cameras in the chambers and committee rooms throughout the Capitol. Many women told the investigator, through tears, that they changed their dress or behavior at work in an attempt to escape his attention.

The report was commissioned after several women—including two fellow state senators and two law students who were working in his office—came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct by the Republican.

Notably, state legislatures all over the country have grappled with how to handle the pervasive sexual harassment reported by women lawmakers in the hallowed halls of their statehouses. States like California, Texas, Florida, Indiana, and Ohio have been forced to create internal guidelines for curbing harassment in the capitols themselves. Many have struggled with it.

But few have commissioned a 51-page report investigating behavior by a specific lawmaker.

According to The Oregonian, State Senators Sara Gelser and Elizabeth Steiner Hayward were among the first to publicly accuse the legislator. Gelser filed a formal complaint in November, sparking the investigation.

The document revealed more misconduct by Kruse, including his alleged harassment of a third female senator, other staffers, a lobbyist, and a former legislative aide. None of those women were named in the report.

One of the law students told the investigator, employment lawyer Dian Rubanoff, that Kruse called her “sexy” and “little girl” while she was at work. She told Rubanoff that Kruse on occasion came up behind her, rested his hands on her shoulders, then pressed his chin on top of her head.

She told Rubanoff that on these occasions she would “sit very still and wait for it to be over.” She said that Kruse would often “put his hand on top of her hand and leave it there while they were talking.” There was, she said, “a lot of hugging.” Sometimes, she said, he put his hand on her thigh.

She did not mention the harassment sooner because she was “terrified” about how it could affect her career, she told Rubanoff.

One lobbyist told Rubanoff that Kruse “cupped her buttocks” at a photo-op in 2017 at the governor’s office. She was worried about coming forward, she told the investigator, over fears that her career would suffer.

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Another law student, directly under Kruse’s employ, said the senator often put his hands on her hips. Sometimes, while he was tightly hugging her from the side, he would slide his fingers over the bottoms of her breasts, the student told Rubanoff.

She even told the investigator that, on her first day at the legislature, during the training session, some of the other employees made jokes about Kruse being “handsy.”

The student told Rubanoff that she “felt trapped” by the lawmaker’s behavior.

When he was pulled aside and warned by male lawmakers about his behavior, Kruse admitted to Rubanoff that he “did not do anything to change his behavior at that time, because he did not know which females in the workplace had complained about him, and he did not want to stop hugging and touching all of them.”

Kruse went through sexual-harassment training in 2017 and afterward made jokes about it, several witnesses told the investigator.

Rubanoff concluded, according to the report, that there was no evidence the women who publicly accused Kruse were motivated to make false allegations against him. Indeed, many of the women were initially hesitant to come forward at all, she said.

Ultimately, she found that all of the accusations were credible and that many had witnesses or were captured on video.

Meanwhile, the report shows that Kruse claimed he had “no recollection” or “could not recall” most of the allegations.

Kruse allegedly only denied one allegation in Rubanoff’s first interview with the lawmaker: “that a staff member had observed him viewing pictures of naked women on his mobile phone in 2016, on the Senate floor while the Senate was convened.”

Though Kruse did not personally respond to the report at press time for locals news sites, he has previously denied the allegations, telling The Oregonian, “I have never done anything that I believe anybody could portray as being sexual.”

Ultimately, Kruse told Rubanoff that he believed his conduct was “instinctual” and that, “It’s not easy to change when you have been doing something for 67 years.”

Despite his haphazard denials, several lawmakers responded to the stunning Tuesday report by calling on Kruse to resign, according to The Oregonian.

“Senator Kruse’s behavior is not acceptable in the Capitol or any workplace, and he should step down,” wrote Gov. Kate Brown.

According to several reports, a four-member panel at the Oregon legislature, the Senate Conduct Committee, will consider the report at a public hearing later this month.