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Aide who blew whistle on mistreatment of staff fired from Washington Office of Insurance Commissioner

Office of Insurance Commissioner
The Office of Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has fired a key aide. The dismissal comes roughly four months after that staffer formally complained about Kreidler's treatment of staff.

The office of Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has fired a top aide who in February formally complained that Kreidler had bullied him, used crass language and was increasingly “antagonizing staff.”

The firing Tuesday of Jon Noski, Kreidler’s legislative liaison, followed a wave of criticism in recent months from current, former and potential Office of Insurance Commissioner (OIC) employees who said Kreider, a six-term Democrat, verbally mistreated staff and also, at times, used racially offensive language.

The Northwest News Network first reported on the existence of Noski’s complaint in March.

In an emailed statement Wednesday, an OIC spokesperson noted that Noski was an at-will, exempt employee subject to termination at any time.

“The decision to end [Noski’s] appointment was made following ongoing discussions with Jon about his role in the office as the agency moves forward. Jon has been a valued member of our legislative and policy team and everyone wishes him well in his future endeavors,” the statement said.

The agency gave no reason for Noski’s firing, nor was an explanation included in his dismissal letter. Noski was terminated the same day he returned to work from medical leave.

“I’m not surprised, I’m disappointed,” Noski said. “I liked my job and I liked the people I worked with and I am going to miss being able to work for the OIC.”

Noski, 42, has retained an attorney and said he’s exploring legal options, but declined to say if he felt the firing was retaliatory. He said he didn’t regret filing the complaint against Kreidler.

“I think it was a stand worth taking,” Noski said. “It’s not been easy since I made the complaint, but I stand by it.”

On Wednesday, Steve Valandra, who retired last November as the OIC's deputy commissioner for public affairs, praised Noski's work ethic and expressed dismay at his dismissal.

"Honestly, I think the wrong person is leaving the agency," said Valandra, who's also been critical of Kreidler's treatment of staff. "[Jon] didn't do anything wrong, but he's the one paying the price."

The agency's former legislative director, Lonnie Johns-Brown, who is now a contract lobbyist, also defended Noski.

"It's disappointing that Jon got fired for speaking up for himself and other staff about what was very unprofessional behavior on the part of the commissioner," Johns-Brown said.

In April, the Northwest News Network in collaboration with The Seattle Times reported that Kreidler, 78, had also used racist and derogatory terms including “wetback,” “Dago Hill,” and “Chinaman” in conversation or in the course of telling stories about his past. Two former staffers also told the news organizations that Kreidler once referred to transgender people as “men with tits.”

In interviews with the news organizations, Kreider said he didn’t recall all of the alleged incidents, but acknowledged that he had used inappropriate language “every once in a while.”

Kreidler also noted that his office has advocated for marginalized communities, including requiring insurance companies to cover medically necessary treatment for transgender people. In addition, Kreidler has waged a years-long campaign to end the practice of insurance companies using credit scores to set rates, arguing that the practice harms low-income people and, disproportionately, people of color.

“There’s more that needs to be done to make sure people aren’t being harmed, and the last thing I want is to ever be in a position where anything I say or do overshadows that,” Kreidler told the news organizations in April.

In an April email to staff, Kreidler said he takes pride in being “politically correct” and said he hoped he’d be judged by his actions “and not on careless words or phrases that have fallen out of my mouth.”

“I do not intend to offend anyone with the things I say, but I know that words matter — especially the words spoken by people in leadership roles,” he wrote.

The OIC later confirmed that it was implementing expanded diversity training which Kreidler and his executive management team would take within the next three months. An OIC spokesperson said Wednesday that training has not yet been scheduled.

Noski’s complaint in February represented a rare case of a key staffer alleging — in writing — mistreatment by an elected statewide official in Washington.

In his complaint, which the Northwest News Network obtained through a public records request, Noski described a phone call with Kreidler that took place on February 1 after Noski had testified about a credit scoring-related bill before a legislative committee. Noski said Kreidler was displeased with how the hearing had gone and blamed Noski.

“The commissioner said that I am an impotent embarrassment who might need to be replaced because of my incompetence,” Noski wrote in his complaint. “The commissioner said I must enjoy getting pissed on and asked if he needed to wipe my ass.”

Noski said Kreidler’s treatment of him was part of a pattern of “inappropriate behavior” that was leading to a high staff turnover rate.

Asked in February about Noski’s complaint, Kreidler said he would dispute some of the specifics, but didn’t deny the allegations.

“I was out of order, I made mistakes,” Kreidler said. “It’s not something I'm going to replicate in the future.”

OIC’s internal policies require all allegations of harassing conduct to be investigated. However, in the case of Noski’s complaint, Kreidler’s chief deputy, Michael Wood, dismissed it on the grounds that no violations of law were being alleged and the fact that OIC’s workplace policies are created under the commissioner’s authority.

“As such, there is no basis to consider action against him [Kreidler] as the subject of the complaint,” Wood wrote in his dismissal of the complaint.

In the months since making the complaint, Noski said there had been discussions of moving him into a project manager position within the office. However, he said he ultimately didn’t see that as an option he was interested in.

Noski's attorney, Kasey Huebner, said until he filed his complaint against Kreidler there had been no discussion of moving Noski to a different role, nor had he been subject to any discipline or advised that he was facing termination.

Noski said he told top OIC management that he could continue to do his job “loyally, professionally and confidentially,” but wanted assurances that he would not be subjected to "hostile treatment" from Kreidler going forward.

“I never got a clear answer or assurance that would be the case,” Noski said.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."