Umatilla Electric Cooperative and its chief executive officer are among defendants in a lawsuit seeking almost $7.2 million for whistleblower retaliation and workplace harassment.
Beth Looney of Portland filed the suit in early June in Multnomah County Circuit Court. She worked from March 2016 to July 3, 2018, for Pacific Northwest Generating Cooperative of Portland, which does business as PNGC Power. Umatilla Electric Cooperative general manager and CEO Robert Echenrode serves on the PNGC Power board of directors.
According to the complaint, Echenrode pushed for a “UEC industrial customer” to receive special treatment with a “carve-out” of more than a certain percentage, which would have “posed disproportionate risks for PNGC and its members.”
Looney claims she reported what she believed was evidence of Echenrode’s breaches of fiduciary duty as a board member, and Echenrode’s response to her attempts to unmask his actions were to bully, demean and degrade her and undermine her authority and reputation at the company.
She claimed she reported Echenrode’s actions and attitude about her and his gender-based harassment, yet PNGC Power did not investigate her reports, and the company did nothing to discourage Echenrode’s behavior nor ensure he would not adversely affect her job.
She claimed she met with Echenrode on June 3, 2018, to address their issues, but Echenrode again gave her “a demeaning and sexually appraising look.” She contacted his fellow board members the next day, according to the complaint, and some apologized for his behavior.
About 10 days later, the company demanded Looney apologize to Echenrode, according to the complaint, and on June 19 began investigating Looney. The situation escalated during the board meeting of July 3, 2018, when she stated she told the board “this is more than bullying, this is harassment.” The company fired her later that day.
Looney seeks more than $3.4 million from PNGC, UEC and Echenrode for the loss of future wages, benefits and pension payments and almost $3.8 million for emotional and physical harm.
Court records show the plaintiff served copies of the lawsuit to Echenrode and the two power companies, but there are no legal responses from the defendants. Umatilla Electric Cooperative, however, provided this response from Echenrode:
“I’m proud of our work at UEC to serve our members by bringing power, progress and opportunity to the community. I approach this mission with a commitment to collaboration and supporting an inclusive and safe workplace for all of our employees. Those missions and values guide my work and remain my focus. I believe the claims are without merit and we will respond through the appropriate legal process, but my focus remains where it should be — on carrying out our mission guided by strong values on behalf of our members and the community we serve.”