PORTLAND- State Labor Commissioner Brad Avakian has issued a final order in the 2006 sexual harassment case against From the Wilderness, Inc. (FTWI) and Michael Ruppert of Ashland. In addition to awarding lost wages, Comm. Avakian ordered $125,000 in mental and emotional suffering damages paid to Lindsay Gerken for the workplace harassment and retaliation she suffered during her less than three months of employment at FTWI. The damage award, the largest in BOLI’s history, reflects the egregious conduct of Ruppert as well as the reinvigoration of civil rights enforcement by Commissioner Avakian.
“BOLI conducts unbiased, third-party investigations of the complaints we receive,” said Commissioner Avakian. “But when the investigation finds substantial evidence of a law violation, we will vigorously pursue a just settlement. In this case, BOLI’s investigation discovered compelling evidence that fully justifies this damage award.”
Gerken filed a complaint alleging sexual harassment by Ruppert during her employment with FTWI and for retaliation for terminating her after she refused his advances. Amid a continuing pattern of harassment that began shortly after Gerken’s hire, the most startling incident occurred in May of 2006 when Ruppert came to Gerken’s office door wearing only his underwear and a smile. Explicitly invited to engage in a sexual relationship with Ruppert on the Friday before Memorial Day, Gerken declined and was terminated on June 1, 2006.
“BOLI will not allow employers to ignore fundamental protections for workers rights,” Commissioner Avakian continued. “Sexual harassment of this magnitude is a brazen violation of the law and the damages ordered here will clearly show BOLI’s commitment to aggressively enforcing the law.”
At the time the harassment and retaliation occurred, Lindsay Gerken was 25 years old and just beginning her professional career. Michael Ruppert was in his mid-50s and a “celebrity” investigative journalist in the literary community surrounding “peak oil” and sustainability. He publishes From the Wilderness magazine and a blog on current events under the same title.
The Bureau of Labor and Industries defends the rights of workers and citizens to equal, nondiscriminatory treatment in workplaces, housing and public accommodations and encourages and enforces compliance with state laws relating to wages, hours, terms and conditions of employment. The bureau also partners with business and labor organizations to build a skilled workforce in Oregon and trains employers to understand and comply with civil rights and other labor and employment laws.