Nepotism complaints are not very common in the state of Oregon, especially as compared to the large amount of annual complaints alleging discrimination or wage and hour violations. In fact, labor officials report investigating only a handful of possible nepotism cases each year. However, nepotism allegations have recently surfaced from perhaps the most unexpected place–the state employment department itself.
Oregon ethics laws prevent public officials from participating in employment decisions regarding relatives or household members, including interviews, debates, or discussions regarding the hiring or termination. The laws define relative as:
-Spouse or domestic partner of a public official.
-Children of the public official or her spouse.
-Siblings, spouses of siblings of the public official.
-Parents and in-laws of the public official.
-Any individual who the public official is obliged to support.
-Any individual who receives the public officials employment benefits (e.g. health insurance), or from whom the public official receives benefits.
-A public official may, however, provide a reference or recommendation for a relative for a job or promotion.
Current Nepotism Allegations
In March, a nepotism complaint was filed against Bob Cummings, a legislative analyst. Though the complaint was initially shelved, Cummings is now the focus of an investigation by the Department of Justice and Oregon Ethics Commission. At the center of the complaint is a software development program led by Leslie Cummings, the Employment Department’s information technology security head and wife of Bob Cummings. The project was plagued with issues from the start from development delays to budget problems to uncoordinated management and overworked staffers. For the past year, Bob Cummings defended the project and made guarantees regarding the project’s success. Ultimately, the project collapsed, costing the state government and taxpayers at least $20 million, and fingers quickly pointed at Bob Cummings for falsely supported the project because of his wife’s involvement.
Bob and Leslie Cummings are only one example of alleged nepotism in Oregon’s employment department. Recently, the director of the agency is retiring, the deputy suddenly resigned for a lower paying state job, and the No. 3 was fired as the governor’s administration cleaned house. An ongoing investigation uncovered evidence that family relationships figured prominently into the unraveling of the top level of the department. The full influence of nepotism in the employment department’s problems is yet to be seen, however there may be several more formal complaints filed as the investigation uncovers more information.
While nepotism likely plays a significant role in the management and practices of many small, private businesses, nepotism among public officials is against the law. Making or influencing favorable employment decisions based solely or strongly on familial relations and not actual qualifications is unethical. Such nepotism-based actions can have an adverse effect on the state of Oregon and its citizens, and should especially not be tolerated in the very department responsible for regulating employment. If you suspect nepotism on the part of any public official or have witnessed it firsthand, contact an experienced employment attorney to schedule a consultation.