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March 12th, 2014 AARON MESH | City Hall
 

Shibley’s Side Of The Story

Hales’ chief of staff responds to a claim she targeted an HIV-positive employee.

news3_4019CHIEF COMPLAINT: The city’s draft response to a civil-rights complaint against Mayor Charlie Hales’ chief of staff, Gail Shibley (above), says the “frustrations” between her and a staffer who filed the complaint “seem to stem primarily from differences in style.” - IMAGE: James Rexroad
Portland Mayor Charlie Hales’ chief of staff, Gail Shibley, is fighting back against allegations she pressured a staffer into revealing he was HIV-positive and called him a “skank” after he told her about his illness.

Instead, Shibley says the employee filed a civil-rights complaint against her only after she denied him paid hours off from work. 

The Hales staffer filed the Jan. 14 complaint with the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, alleging that Shibley made illegal inquiries into his HIV-positive status, harassed him after learning of his disease, and retaliated against him for complaining about her actions.

WW has obtained a draft copy of the city’s response to the discrimination allegations, which includes Shibley’s denials.

In the response, Shibley denies the staffer’s charges. She also provides state investigators with testimonial letters from friends and colleagues saying she’s not prejudiced. (Shibley is a lesbian who in 1991 revealed her sexual orientation, becoming the first openly gay member of the Oregon Legislature.)

“She submits these testimonials,” the draft response says, “in an effort to show that the allegation that she is a person who harbors discriminatory feelings about people who are HIV-positive or would treat someone unfavorably upon knowing of their illness is completely unfounded.”

Hales’ office declined to comment on the city’s response.

In the complaint, the Hales staffer claims Shibley insisted he explain why he had a TriMet “Honored Citizen” pass, which gives discounted fares and priority seating to seniors and people with disabilities.

The staffer says Shibley continued to ask him about the pass, and he felt pressured into revealing his HIV status.

In the city’s response, Shibley tells the BOLI investigator that she never made the staffer explain why he had the pass. Shibley says another co-worker asked about the pass—and when Shibley tried to defuse an awkward situation, the staffer met with her privately.

“He confided that the reason he has the pass is because he is HIV-positive and expressed that he felt comfortable sharing that with her because of their shared experiences being members of the gay community,” the response says.

The staffer who filed the complaint had previously worked for former Mayor Sam Adams, who is also openly gay. In the original complaint, the staffer alleges Shibley made derogatory comments about Adams and him.

“Shibley stated to me that Adams must have been something of a ‘skank,’ adding that I must be a ‘skank’ as well, since working for Adams required a different or special skill set,” the staffer says in the complaint.

In the city’s response, Shibley “emphatically denies” the staffer’s charge and says it was the staffer who “made some unflattering statements about the former mayor.”

The complaint against Shibley is the latest in a series of allegations of misbehavior by Hales’ staff.

Last summer, the mayor’s top police aide, Baruti Artharee, made sexually suggestive remarks to Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith, and was suspended for a week. Former top financial executive Jack Graham was accused of improperly moving money between city accounts, while Office of Equity director Dante James violated city policy by complimenting a staffer’s eyes. The incidents have led some observers to call for increased city protections for whistle-blowers.

The staffer’s BOLI complaint alleges that the discrimination continued when other employees in the mayor’s office received paid time off while he was denied the same benefit.

The city’s response says Shibley only gave paid time off to two staffers, who had worked unusually long hours, and suggests that her more conservative allocation of paid leave is the real motivation behind the civil-rights complaint.

The city document says the staffer first complained about discrimination to the city’s Human Resources Bureau nearly eight months after the alleged incidents—and two months after Shibley denied him paid time off, a bonus he had received working for Adams.

The staffer complained one month after a second employee in Hales’ office asked him about his TriMet pass.

“Respondent asserts that as time passed and [the staffer] was challenged to perform his job differently than how he had performed under Mayor Adams, he began to resent Ms. Shibley’s style of management.”

The staffer’s BOLI complaint says city human resources director Anna Kanwit discouraged him from filing a complaint against Shibley.  

The city’s response says Kanwit didn’t try to get him to drop the complaint. Instead, the response says, she investigated it.

“After reviewing the intake interview and talking to Ms. Shibley,” the city’s response says, “Ms. Kanwit determined that there was not enough evidence of a violation of city rules to proceed with an investigation.”

The city says Shibley didn’t commit a civil-rights violation, but it offers to “participate in a conciliation process” to heal Shibley’s relationship to the employee.

That probably won’t happen: The employee has since left the mayor’s office. 

 
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