Report: Lawmaker ‘engaged in abusive and bullying conduct’

October 12, 2022 GMT

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — A workplace conduct investigation released this week found that Rep. Melanie Morgan “engaged in abusive and bullying conduct” and took retaliatory actions against a policy analyst working for the Social Equity in Cannabis Task Force on which the Democratic lawmaker served as chair.

A 21-page report by an investigator with Seattle-based law firm Williams Kastner was sent to Chief Clerk of the House Bernard Dean last month and was released by Dean Monday night. Starting in mid-January, an investigator talked with several individuals, who are not named, about allegations of “inappropriate and unprofessional conduct” starting with a meeting on Oct. 19, 2021.

The conduct alleged included hostile and disrespectful interactions at meetings and other occasions, and alleged retaliatory complaints filed by Morgan against the employee related to job performance after complaints were filed regarding Morgan’s behavior. The report also said that Morgan had suggested that unless the individual was removed from the task force she would resign.

Dean said that Morgan’s attorney has filed a formal appeal with the House Executive Rules Committee. The attorney did not respond to email or phone requests for comment. But in the appeal filed Sunday, Attorney Edward Younglove III criticized both the contents of the report and the House’s decision to release it publicly, saying that doing so denies Morgan “due process and fundamental fairness.”

“On appeal it will be shown that this investigative report was based on hearsay and the opinions, assumptions, and perceptions of various individuals rather than fact-based competent evidence,” he wrote.

House Speaker Laurie Jinkins said in an email that no action would be taken by the House Democratic Caucus until the appeal is completed.

The task force — created by the 2020 Legislature — is responsible for making recommendations to the Liquor and Cannabis Board to establish a social equity program related to retail cannabis licenses. The task force also advises the governor and Legislature on policies “that will facilitate social equity in the cannabis industry” and it must submit a final report to the Legislature and Gov. Jay Inslee by December 9. There are more than 20 members on the committee, including lawmakers, interest groups and license holders.

Morgan, of Parkland, resigned from the task force months ago, according to Jinkins. According to posted meeting agendas, she was last in attendance on June 28.

In an interview with the investigator earlier this year, Morgan said that she was not angry, did not raise her voice or use a condescending tone when speaking with the task force employee.

“She stated that she does not use condescending tones when speaking to people,” the report said.

The report notes that the House has a ‘respectful workplace’ policy that prohibits abusive behavior and bullying as well as retaliation, “such as ostracism or threat of an adverse employment action.”

The report concluded that Morgan “engaged in abusive and bullying conduct” and “that engaging in rude, disrespectful, and demeaning conduct is a violation of the Respectful Workplace policy.” The report also found that Morgan’s complaints against the employee after learning of complaints they and another employee filed “constitutes retaliation and was an adverse employment action” and that the suggestion she would resign unless the employee was removed from the task force “was also retaliatory in nature because its intended purpose was to force the removal of Individual 1 from their position.”