Work in Progress
Claims of gender bias at Multnomah District Attorney‘s Office
Last week, an attorney at the Multnomah District Attorney’s Office, Amber Kinney, submitted her letter of resignation to her boss, Mike Schmidt, who was elected in 2020 on his platform of criminal justice system reform and police accountability.
Kinney explained that she was not quitting because of any “philosophical differences” with Schmidt’s policies — for which he was elected in a landslide — but rather due to her workload and his gender discrimination, which she stated had impacted the promotion and retention of women prosecutors. Kinney noted that the problem of gender discrimination predated Schmidt’s arrival at the office, but asserted that it had worsened under him — even going so far as to claim that “women’s forward progress” had been “set back decades” under his leadership.
She included statistics in her letter to support her allegations: Women mostly have not been hired or promoted into leadership roles under Schmidt; and of the people who have resigned since Schmidt’s election, the majority were women.
Those stats appear compelling at a glance, but Kinney’s data was produced in a relatively small office (77 attorneys) during an atypical period of time (Covid, Portland protests, absolute mess left after the dramatic resignation of Schmidt’s predecessor, etc.).¹ Under those conditions, it wouldn’t take much to skew the numbers dramatically and lead to a faulty hypothesis. More significantly, Kinney cannot speak for the other women who resigned.
Even more importantly, according to the District Attorney’s Office, Kinney’s claim that ”there is not a single female attorney leading a felony trial unit” is actually false: Lori Fellows — who Kinney misgendered in her footnotes, is a woman who runs the juvenile unit, which handles major felonies. Further, the District Attorney’s Office states that Kinney resigned “just a few weeks after one of DDA Kinney’s female colleagues was promoted to a Senior Deputy.” Additionally, Kinney’s claim that Policy Director Aaron Knott manages attorneys is false.
Regardless, the interesting part of Kinney’s letter — which the Oregonian wisely chose to exclude from its article about her departure — was her suggestion of work accommodations for women:
“Increased workloads disproportionately impact women. Women, especially those of us who are also mothers, are often tasked with much of the domestic responsibilities in addition to our career responsibilities. Women are far less likely to have a career and a stay-at-home partner. In fact, I do not know of a single female attorney in our office who has a stay-at-home partner. By contrast, many male attorneys in our office do have stay-at-home partners. So when workloads increase, it disproportionately impacts those whose lives do not allow for continued absorption of increased work. If retaining female prosecutors is a priority, then [Multnomah County District Attorney’s Office] must acknowledge the inherent differences between women and men. You must examine your implicit gender biases and make conscious accommodations to correct for the unequal impact of this work on women.”
Kinney seemed to be advocating for decreased workloads as accommodations for women. However, she admitted that the entire office suffered from overwork — not just herself or women in general:
“[M]y caseload, and all caseloads in our office, have doubled in the last two years.”
That is to say, the office has a labor shortage and needs to hire more attorneys. Kinney’s proposed accommodations would simply shift women’s² caseload to others — evidently men with stay-at-home partners — and create a new group of exhausted and aggrieved employees.
Importantly, that new group would also suffer based on its gender. That is not a solution to the office’s problems, merely a trade-off that some would, apparently, find acceptable.³
Astonishingly, Kinney closed her letter by directing Schmidt to her Tiktok account, @knowabuse — where she seems to have enough time to create content for her 150K followers, including videos that appear to have been made in the District Attorney’s office.
For his part, Schmidt released a clear statement about the resignation:
“Deputy District Attorney Kinney is an excellent attorney and an asset to this office. I am sorry to see her go under these circumstances. That said, we dispute the claims in her letter of resignation. We believe that there are misrepresentations about our management structure and a devaluing of the equally important role of non-attorney staff within that structure, among other disputes. We value equity, transparency, and equal opportunity within our office, which is more representative, both in terms of gender and race, and ethnicity, than both the Oregon State Bar as a whole and the population of Multnomah County. We are deeply committed to uplifting diversity at all levels. We apply these values to our everyday work from how we make decisions to how we treat the people that we work with and the communities that we serve.”
The public may decide for itself if Amber Kinney misrepresented her individual lack of progress as an indication that District Attorney Mike Schmidt — or the office itself — is incapable of progress.⁴
¹ It is worth noting that Kinney’s letter mentioned the challenges presented to the DA’s office by covid, but failed to mention the challenges presented by the BLM protests in Portland; nor did Kinney present any statistics regarding the progress of non-white attorneys in the office.
² Kinney made no distinction between single and partnered women, or between those with or without children.
³ Personal anecdote: several years ago, I covered the entire workload for a coworker out on bedrest, then maternity leave, then postpartum depression — around six or seven months — without any extra compensation or reduction of my own workload. There were other people better-suited to cover the work, but they were married with children. Our boss made it clear that she picked me because I was childless and single. This made me resentful, to put it mildly, and I resigned the minute my contract was up.
⁴ The public should read Kinney’s letter firsthand, rather than rely on the agenda-driven Oregonian article for information — which failed to clarify that everyone in the office had their workload doubled, not just Kinney or women in general.
And if Kinney is incapable of accurately reporting her coworkers’ genders and responsibilities, she probably shouldn’t be put in charge of determining whose partners stay-at-home and should therefore absorb women’s work.