OLYMPIA (AP) — A workplace conduct investigation into former state Rep. Jeff Morris, D-Mount Vernon, found that he likely violated the Washington House’s policy against harassment and intimidation and “unreasonably interfered with individuals’ work performance.”
Morris resigned from the Legislature in November to take a private-sector job. He represented the 40th Legislative District that encompasses northwest Skagit County — including Anacortes — southwest Whatcom County and all of San Juan County.
A four-page summary of the the investigation, written in March 2019, was released Wednesday night in response to public records requests made last year by The Associated Press. House administrators did not release the full report, which is still being sought by the AP and other news organizations.
The summary was written by Daphne Schneider, a private investigator hired by the House. She wrote that there were no allegations of sexual harassment against the former lawmaker from Mount Vernon, but did detail several concerns that were brought up during the course of the investigation, which started in November 2018, including that he “insults and disrespects others, and gives staff the impression that nothing they do is good enough.”
Other complaints related to the time Morris was a committee chairman, from 2013-2018, were that he created unnecessary staff workload issues, didn’t show up for meetings or read materials sent by staff, and regularly blamed staff when things went wrong. He was also accused of lying about others, and in his dealings with nonpartisan staff “behaves in ways that create excessive stress, tension and sometimes illness among staff.”
Schneider wrote that Morris said that other than the workload issues, he had never been advised of any issues with staff or other lawmakers, and repeatedly said he had not received training on how to supervise or interact with staff.
“He did not take responsibility for any of the behaviors about which I asked him, though he did say he was willing to learn to behave differently if provided with tools or training,” she wrote.
Schneider recommended that clear expectations be set for his behavior and that Morris, who had already been removed as chair of the House Technology and Economic Development Committee, not be assigned another committee chairman position unless his behavior changed.
Morris emailed the AP a two-page memo Thursday that he said he sent to the House last July challenging the findings. He said the memo was supposed to be attached to all copies of the summary and full report but was apparently not included in the documents released Wednesday night by the House.
In the memo, Morris lays out numerous instances where he says concerns weren’t relayed to him or where he said that elements of the investigation were misrepresented to him.
“The summary provided to me lacks any concrete instances or occurrences of behavior that violates the House Employee Policy Manual in place at the time,” he wrote. “I don’t believe that there are any.”
The memo states that the House’s contract with the investigator was “verbally broad and not transparent,” seemed politically motivated and maligned his reputation.
The release of the investigative summary comes nearly two months after the state Supreme Court ruled that lawmakers are subject to the state’s Public Records Act, something they had long fought against.
While the Senate already had a practice of publicly releasing entire reports on investigations of senators for workplace misconduct or sexual harassment before the ruling, the House does not, choosing to instead just release a summary of a report or nothing at all, with only one exception to date. In December, the House did release the entire report into Republican Rep. Matt Shea, who is accused of participating in and planning domestic terrorism against the United States due to his involvement in three standoffs against the government.