Governor Kotek appoints labor lawyer Aruna Masih to Oregon Supreme Court

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By MALLORY GRUBEN

Oregon governor Tina Kotek announced Aug. 16 that she’s appointing a long-time workers rights attorney to fill a vacancy on the Oregon Supreme Court.

Aruna Masih

Aruna Masih, 52, has practiced law in Oregon for more than 25 years. She’s spent most of her career with Bennett Hartman, a prominent pro-labor law firm. There, she represented unions and public employees in their fight to preserve retirement benefits. Masih was the lead attorney for a 2019 lawsuit against Senate Bill 1049, which cut benefits to employees in the PERS (Public Employees Retirement System). She has represented workers in all the major PERS cases decided by the Oregon Supreme Court since 2003.

“To have the state continually try to take things away that people have been relying on, that really offended her sense of what is just and important and equitable,” said Margaret Olney, a managing partner at Bennett Hartman and Masih’s law partner.

Masih said one of her most memorable cases involved a state worker who received almost $207,000 less in retirement benefits than PERS administrators quoted her in estimates. A jury said she was entitled to the full estimate because it was negligent for the public agency to overestimate. However, the Oregon Supreme Court overturned their ruling. So Masih went before the state legislature to advocate for a fix — and corrected the problem for all public employees by helping pass SB 897 in 2009.

Masih also recovered benefits workers were illegally denied, reversed unjust disciplinary actions, and resolved grievances about sexual harassment and discrimination. Her law partners described her as thorough, curious, and compassionate.

Masih was born in New York to a Punjabi, Indian father and British mother. When she was six months old, her family moved back to India to a rural mission hospital. She says her parents instilled in her the importance of public service, commitment to a larger cause, and equitable access for all. Her family returned to the United States when she was in high school.

Masih fills a vacancy created when Oregon Supreme Court justice Adrienne Nelson was appointed by President Joe Biden to a judgeship on the U.S. District Court for Oregon. Oregon Supreme Court judges are elected, and Masih will face re-election in May 2024.                  

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