Community Government

Investigation criticizes Caldier’s behavior to legislative staff, colleagues

Posted on December 19th, 2023 By:

An independent investigation released this week by the chief clerk of the state House of Representatives alleged that state Rep. Michelle Caldier, R-Gig Harbor, violated the body’s policies on abusive behavior and bullying. 

The investigation was conducted by attorney Sheryl J. Willert of the law firm of Williams, Kastner & Gibbs. The chief clerk’s office requested it on Dec. 14, 2022, about a month after a verbal incident between Caldier and House Republican Caucus staff at the Spokane Airport on Nov. 18, 2022.  

The incident came as legislators and caucus staff prepared to leave Spokane after a House Republican Organization Committee meeting. During that meeting, Caldier resigned from the caucus, which she later explained was in frustration over disagreements with caucus leadership and what she argued was insufficient accommodation for her vision loss. 

Caldier returned to the House Republican Caucus this spring, after former minority leader Rep. J.T. Wilcox of Yelm stepped down from the role. 

Caldier’s response

In an email to Gig Harbor Now, Caldier indicated she believes the investigation was political retaliation for her resignation from the caucus. She said the investigation report contains “numerous inaccuracies.” 

An open letter from Caldier’s attorney, Edward Earl Younglove III of Younglove & Coker, criticized how Willert conducted the investigation. 

Caldier appealed the findings on Friday, according to the Washington State Standard, a nonprofit news organization covering politics and government in Olympia. The House Executive Rules Committee, composed of four Democrats and three Republicans, will hear the appeal.

If her appeal is not successful, Caldier’s punishment could range from a letter of reprimand to reduced staff or loss of committee assignments, according to the Standard.

Spokane Airport incident

The incident at the Spokane Airport appears to have been the catalyst for the investigation. 

The investigation report indicates that Caldier was touching up her makeup in an airport bathroom when a senior caucus staff member — with whom she had a disagreement just hours before — greeted her. Caldier called the staff member a “horrible person” and said “we are done.”

Another staff member told the investigator that they were concerned enough that they escorted the senior staff member onto the flight back to SeaTac. 

The letter from Younglove, Caldier’s attorney, said the senior staff member was “responsible at least in part” for the Gig Harbor Republican leaving the caucus. Caldier’s “emotional state would have been raw and fragile,” Younglove wrote. 

Interactions with staff 

Willert, the lawyer who conducted the investigation, reported interviewing 15 of the 18 people with whom she attempted to speak.

Various witnesses referred to Caldier as “a yeller,” “unpleasant” and “not gracious,” according to Willert’s report. One witness said Caldier is not “the easiest person with whom they work.” 

Others said Caldier publicly criticized staff members whose work did not meet her standards, including at least once during a hearing televised by TVW.

Many of those reports were of the second-hand variety, with witnesses reporting interactions they had heard about from someone else.

A footnote in Willert’s report said: “With limited exceptions, the undersigned (Willert) was not able to get into contact with the individuals to whom the expressed concerns were attributed and therefore, cannot independently verify the reports.” 

The witnesses Willert spoke with, again in second-hand reports, said those with first-hand knowledge didn’t want to come forward because they feared retaliation from Caldier. 


The report also alleged that Caldier repeatedly used profane language with staff members and legislative colleagues. 

A witness described Caldier “hurling profanities” at another representative during a disagreement over an amendment. Willert described another interaction over a legislative issue as a “barrage of profanities.” 

The report said Caldier acknowledged use of profanity and said “this is something that she has worked on because she had friends who told her that ‘just because you represent a Navy town (Bremerton)’ doesn’t mean you have to talk like a sailor.” 

“She then stated that the reason that there are swear jars is because there is a significant amount of swearing in politics, that she usually pays ahead of time and that is supposed to take care of all of your sins.” 

Caldier’s email addressed the “hurling profanities” incident, which came in the immediate aftermath of a fire that destroyed her former home in the Port Orchard area and most of her belongings. 

“In retrospect, I should have taken time off after the arson,” Caldier wrote. “I was in a state of shock and did not realize the impact it had on me and others at the time. That does not excuse any behavior, but something I will change in the future if I ever have another traumatic event like that one in my life.” 

Legislative aides

The investigation notes that Caldier had 10 legislative aides between 2014 and the end of the 2022 session. Only two of the 10 remained in the job for more than a year. 

One was later “terminated” by the caucus for acting in an unprofessional manner by talking about Caldier to other employees and representatives, according to the investigation.

The report notes that some of that employee turnover can be explained by a higher rate of defection of political employees during election years. Some turnover is also normal in a job sometimes used by employees as a steppingstone to other positions.

However, Willert concluded that “much of the turnover was due to the manner in which Representative Caldier communicated with her legislative assistants.”

State Rep. Michelle Caldier, R-Gig Harbor, on the House floor in 2020. Photo courtesy House Republican Caucus

Disability accommodations 

Caldier and Younglove, her attorney, criticized the investigation for how it handled her disability.

She was diagnosed with glaucoma in 2016 and describes experiencing “overnight” vision loss in December of that year. Doctors surgically removed her left eye and she is legally blind in her right, with a field of vision of about 10 inches.

Accommodations of that vision loss were at the heart of Caldier’s decision to leave the House Republican Caucus late last year, she said. She said she has faced challenges involving transportation to off-site meetings and obtaining documents accessible to those with visual impairment.

Willert’s investigation concluded that the House “sought to provide her with reasonable and appropriate accommodation and has actually provided those accommodations.” The investigator accuses Caldier of using her disability to “deflect” from her behavior. The report paraphrases a witness who said Caldier employs her disability as “an excuse for her demeanor and inappropriate interactions.” 

Caldier noted that she is working with Disability Rights Washington to ensure she receives appropriate accommodations. 

“At no point during this investigation was I told that the investigator was going to make a determination on whether I have received reasonable workplace accommodations,” Caldier wrote in her email to Gig Harbor Now. “This has been the most disappointing part of the report, as many components are missing due to how the information in the report is collected.” 

Her attorney slammed the investigation for veering into the question of Caldier’s disability. “The investigator not only seems to challenge Rep. Caldier’s need for a disability accommodation, but also the psychological implications of her disability,” Younglove wrote.