Ore. to pay former CO $500K to settle suit stemming from her report of sexual assault
The former CO said the DOC failed to address a hostile work environment after she accused another CO of sexually assaulting, stalking and harassing her
By Austin De Dios
PENDLETON, Ore. — The Oregon Department of Corrections will pay $500,000 to settle a federal lawsuit brought by a former corrections officer who said the department failed to address a hostile work environment after she accused another guard of sexually assaulting, stalking and harassing her.
The suit, filed in August 2021 by Ashley Longhorn after she left her job at Eastern Oregon Correctional Institution, was scheduled to go to trial Monday in U.S. District Court in Eugene.
In settling the case, the state admitted no fault. The accused guard also denied Longhorn’s allegations, and prosecutors dropped criminal charges of sex abuse against him.
Longhorn counted the settlement as a victory.
“The Department of Corrections failed to keep me safe after I made a report of sexual assault,” Longhorn said in a statement this week. “I hope my case will spur a change in the culture of predatory behavior towards female employees at EOCI, so that what happens to me never happens to another woman.”
Longhorn joined the Corrections Department at the Pendleton prison in March 2020 when she was 24. The Oregonian/OregonLive generally does not name victims of sexual abuse or alleged sexual abuse, but Longhorn agreed through an attorney to be named.
Senior corrections officer Matthew Klimek, then 33, struck up conversations with Longhorn at work, offering advice and mentorship, according to Longhorn’s suit. Klimek said they developed a sexual relationship that was consensual.
Longhorn alleged that in May 2020 Klimek sexually assaulted her at his home and put his hands on her throat even though she told him to stop multiple times, according to the complaint filed by her attorneys. She reported the alleged assault to a co-worker and then her bosses.
Afterward, she said Klimek began stalking her at work and parking next to her car even when she was not parked in the standard employee parking lot, the complaint said.
Oregon State Police launched an investigation in June 2020 and that summer Longhorn faced harassment from colleagues, prompting Longhorn to go on unpaid medical leave due to anxiety and panic attacks, the complaint read. Later she moved her schedule to the graveyard shift to avoid coworkers, and she eventually resigned.
A grand jury in Umatilla County indicted Klimek in December 2020 on charges of unlawful sexual penetration, sex abuse and strangulation, but Umatilla County Deputy District Attorney Jameson R. Hayes dropped criminal charges against Klimek in March 2021. Court records show prosecutors did not think they could prove the allegations against Klimek beyond a reasonable doubt.
In May 2021, Klimek filed a civil suit in Umatilla County Circuit Court against Longhorn alleging she defamed him. He dropped it in January 2023. The following month, Longhorn dropped him as a defendant in her federal lawsuit, leaving only the Corrections Department.
This week Klimek blasted the state’s settlement agreement.
“I feel like I’ve been let down by the system all over again,” Klimek said.
The Oregon Department of Corrections declined to comment on the settlement. Spokesperson Betty Bernt confirmed that Klimek no longer works at the eastern Oregon prison as of Jan. 24, 2022. Klimek said he was fired.