Esteemed Couple Win Payouts

Unfair job termination and profiling cases settled

Danny Peterson | 10/17/2017, 4:31 p.m.
Esteemed couple from the African American community settle separate lawsuits against the State of Oregon
Nkenge Harmon Johnson and Erious Johnson Jr.

Two esteemed members of the African American community, Erious Johnson Jr. and Nkenge Harmon Johnson, who are married, both settled separate lawsuits against the State of Oregon, it was announced last week.

Erious Johnson Jr., who was the top civil rights lawyer for the Oregon Department of Justice until Friday, ended his racial profiling case against the state for $205,000, but he also resigns his employment with the state as part of the terms of the settlement.

Nkenge Harmon Johnson, the president and chief executive officer of the Urban League of Portland, ended her lawsuit claiming unfair termination for being a whistle blower in the office of former Gov. John Kitzhaber. She was awarded $70,000 to settle her case, according to terms of the settlement.

In 2015, Erious Johnson Jr. found out that he was surveilled online by one of his colleagues, James Williams, who used a tool called “Digital Stakeout” to search for terms like “Black Lives Matter” on social media. Johnson had been using a Black Lives Matter hashtag and made references to rap group Public Enemy on Twitter. Williams prepared a memo, at the request of his supervisors, detailing the social media activity.

The surveillance and memo may have constituted racial profiling and violated laws against gathering information on a person’s political outlook without evidence of a crime being committed, Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum determined.

As former Gov. Kitzhaber’s ex-communications director, Nkenge Harmon Johnson was dismissed three days after she questioned then-First Lady Cylvia Hayes’ involvement in Kitzhaber’s re-election campaign and policy issues at a 2014 staff meeting. Harmon Johnson said the firing was unjust.