Oregon state lawmaker 'likely' created 'hostile' work environment for former romantic partners: investigation

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An Oregon state lawmaker “likely” tried to pressure former romantic partners — over whom he had professional sway — to become involved with him again, a nine-month-long independent investigation found, according to reports.

State lawmakers in Salem could decide as early as next week if state Rep. Diego Hernandez, D-Portland, violated the congressional sexual harassment policy, Oregon Public Broadcasting first reported.

The report, issed Monday, will be presented to the House Committee on Conduct, where Hernandez says he supports an “effective review of credible allegations” but claimed that conduct rules are often politicized — with cases “tried in the press.” 

The report concluded that Hernandez used his position of power to try to revive relationships with at least two women and that he sent “controlling and abusive” texts to a third. 

For one of the women, known as Subject One, the report found her to be “reasonably concerned that her work at the Capitol would be jeopardized given her lack of interest in continuing a romantic relationship with Rep. Hernandez.”

Hernandez allegedly sent texts to Subject Two that could be “reasonably be interpreted as controlling and abusive” and after their relationship that lasted around a year ended. The report added it found it “more likely than not that Subject Two’s uncomfortableness working around Rep. Hernandez was reasonable.” 

(Oregon state Rep. Diego Hernandez, D-Portland. (Oregon Legislature photo))

The report also claimed Hernandez created an “intimidating, hostile, and offensive” work environment during and after his romantic relationship with another woman known as Subject Four, according to OPB.

One of the unnamed women, who worked with legislators in her job, had already said she wasn’t interested in him before he continued to pursue her.

Both of the women who had “brief romantic” relationships with Hernandez (less than a year) said they found it was hard to break up with him, the report said, according to OPB.

One of the women told investigators that along with repeatedly asking her out, Hernandez had also sent her gifts and came to her house unannounced – all after she made it clear to him she wasn’t interested, Willamette Week reported. 

Hernandez has denied any wrongdoing and claims he is being smeared by Democratic leadership.

“(House Speaker) Tina Kotek threatened to ruin my political and personal career,” he told Willamette Week in October.

Hernandez in a statement Monday said, “After an exhaustive nine-month investigation, and hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, I now, at long last, know all the details of the allegations against me. The Report contains no evidence that personal safety was ever a consideration and in fact I haven’t spoken to two of the three subjects in more than three years.”

He continued, “Dating when you are young is hard. Some dating relationships do not end definitively, but rather slip away over time. There is often some confusion, mixed signals, and strained emotions. To anyone I made uncomfortable in my personal life, I sincerely apologize. My actions were motivated from honest affection and the best of intentions.”

“Dating when you are young is hard. Some dating relationships do not end definitively, but rather slip away over time.”

He said his relationships with the women were all prior to him becoming a legislator. He was elected in 2016. 

He continued, “I had a friendship with the three women reported as ‘subjects’ prior to becoming a legislator. None of them have ever worked for me in any way nor were they legislative branch staff while we were dating.”

The report said it was “more likely than not” that Hernandez had not had a romantic relationship with one of his legislative staffers, as alleged, nor that he retaliated against another staffer for reporting it, Willamette Week reported.

The newspaper reported last year that an ex-girlfriend had filed a restraining order against Hernandez. it was unclear if that woman was any of the subjects in the report. 

House Speaker Kotek and other Democrats have previously called for his resignation.

“The conduct committee created a safety plan last year to protect women who courageously came forward about how unsafe and uncomfortable they felt because of Representative Hernandez,” Kotek said in a statement this week, according to the newspaper. “I believed them then and I believe them now. I’m focused on doing everything I can to ensure people can do their work without the threat of harassment or retaliation.”

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