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Lawsuits & Litigation

Oregon Civil Rights Agency Hit with $2.3M Lawsuit Over Discrimination Allegations

— June 2, 2021

Carol Johnson, a Black female lawyer, is suing Oregon’s civil rights agency over alleged racial discrimination.

A lawsuit was recently filed by Carol Johnson, a Black female lawyer who was hired to take charge of Oregon’s civil rights agency in 2019. According to her suit, which was filed in Multnomah County Circuit Court, her White subordinates “dismissed her expertise and declined to follow her directives.” To make matters worse, on one occasion she received an anonymous package at her home that contained feces.

Carol Johnson
Carol Johnson; image courtesy of the city of Austin,

Before joining Oregon’s civil rights agency, Johnson led the fair housing commission in Arkansas. In 2020, after enduring the alleged discrimination and mistreatment, she resigned from the Oregon civil rights position and took a similar position in Austin, Texas earlier this year. Her lawsuit is the second time in five years that an Oregon government agency has been sued for alleged racial discrimination.

In the earlier case, lawyer Erious Johnson worked for the state Department of Justice and ended up agreeing to a $205,000 settlement “with the state after his own agency investigated his use of a surveillance tool for monitoring people who used the hashtag ‘Black Lives Matter’ on social media.

At one point, Johnson claims she was told by Oregon labor officials that “most Black professionals don’t last long in Oregon.” What did state officials say about Johnson’s allegations, though? Well, so far the agency has denied the allegations, and Labor Commissioner Val Hoyle, one of the labor officials mentioned in Johnson’s complaints, hired a ‘neutral third-party investigator’ to investigate the complaints. According to Hoyle, that investigation is still pending.

What happened, though? What prompted Johnson to file the suit in the first place? For starters, the suit claims Johnson “had no authority to discipline or admonish her staff for poor work performance or insubordination, claiming that undermined her authority and made her vulnerable to further mistreatment.” On top of that, the suit alleges Johnson “faced resistance when trying to launch a training program for investigating civil rights complaints.” It further states:

“Several Caucasian staff were antagonistic and disrespectful to a highly experienced African American presenter.”

When she voiced her concerns about the treatment or filed complaints, they went largely ignored, according to Johnson. Finally, in July 2021, she announced her plans to resign, citing “unremitting discriminatory work conditions.” Shortly after, Hoyle issued a statement to the agency employees that said she “would not tolerate anti-Black bias in our workplace.”

For now, the suit is seeking $17,000 in economic damages and an additional $2.3 million in noneconomic damages.


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