Friday, August 27, 2004

Employee lawsuit: Allen coerced sex


Allegations 'outrageous,' his lawyer says

By Dan Horn, Sharon Coolidge
and Cindi Andrews
Enquirer staff writers

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Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen coerced a female employee into an affair, had sex with her during office hours and threatened to ruin her career if she stopped seeing him, the woman claimed in a federal lawsuit Thursday.

Rebecca Collins, a 33-year-old assistant prosecutor, accused Allen, 48, of plotting to seduce her almost from the outset of her job as an intern in June 1999.

"Mike Allen pursued a sexual relationship with her practically since the day she started," said Sheila Smith, one of Collins' lawyers. "He relentlessly pursued her."

Allen's lawyer called the accusations "outrageous and false" and said Allen's 31/2-year relationship with Collins was consensual.

SEXUAL HARASSMENT, SEX DISCRIMINATION

Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen was sued Thursday under federal and state laws related to sexual harassment and sex discrimination.

• Sexual Harassment. Unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature constitute sexual harassment when this conduct explicitly or implicitly affects an individual's employment, unreasonably interferes with an individual's work performance, or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work environment.

• Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act make it illegal in the United States to discriminate in any aspect of employment. Specifically, Title VII prohibits intentional discrimination and those practices that have the effect of discriminating against individuals because of their race, color, national origin, religion, or sex.

• Ohio Revised Code, section 4112.02(a) makes it illegal for any employer, because of the race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, age, or ancestry of any person, to discharge without just cause, to refuse to hire, or otherwise to discriminate against that person with respect to hire, tenure, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment or any matter directly or indirectly related to employment.

Source: U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Ohio Revised Code

Allen said in a news conference Wednesday that he did not violate his office's sexual harassment policy, although the policy states sexual conduct "will not be tolerated even if the parties engage in the conduct consensually.''

Collins is asking for lost pay and benefits and to be granted promotions she says she was denied, and wants compensatory and punitive damages. No amount was specified.

County commissioners, whom Collins is also suing, said Thursday they would launch an independent investigation into the sexual-harassment claims.

"My overriding concern here is that the truth - whatever it is - be told," Commissioner Todd Portune said. "None of us want to engage in a witch hunt, but none of us want to engage in a whitewash, either."

The lawsuit portrays Allen, a married father of two children and the top law-enforcement official in the county, as a manipulator who left Collins gifts, wrote her letters and routinely summoned her to his office for sex.

Collins also says her fellow employees, as well as other county officials, knew she was a victim of sexual harassment but did nothing to stop it.

According to the lawsuit, Allen used his "significant power" and "political influence" to deny Collins promotions and other employment benefits. And when she complained, the suit claims, Allen warned her: "If I go down, you go down with me."

The accusations are significant not only because they are personally embarrassing to Allen - one of the most powerful politicians in the county - but also because they contradict his claim that the relationship was consensual.

The lawsuit also makes allegations that, if true, would mean Allen had sex with an employee when both were being paid to do their jobs for the county.

In the past, county employees have been punished or fired for conducting personal business when they were supposed to be working for the county.

Allen has said he will not resign. He is unopposed for re-election to a second term on the Nov. 2 ballot. Nonetheless, the political fallout from his acknowledgement of the affair continued Thursday.

A day after he flew home from the Republican National Convention in New York to admit the affair, Allen agreed to step down as chairman of the Bush-Cheney campaign in Southwest Ohio, a campaign official said.

U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot, who has known Allen for years, said he and other fellow Republicans were stunned by Allen's announcement Wednesday.

"I don't know if any rules or laws were broken," Chabot said. "That would be the thing I would consider as far as what ought to happen. The behavior was very, very surprising to me and clearly wrong."

Allen did not return phone calls Thursday. But his lawyer, Michael Hawkins, said Allen denies any sexual conduct at the office on county time and denies he pressured Collins into a relationship.

"She is a 33-year-old woman," Hawkins said. "She knows how to get into and out of a relationship."

Hawkins said Collins - not Allen - pursued the relationship and continued to contact him even after it had ended.

"There are a number of individuals who would say she bragged about having a relationship with Mike and that she sought out the relationship," he said.

This past spring, he said, Collins gave Allen a gift with a note attached: "The hype of the gift probably outdid the gift itself. But I do always think of you even if I don't always show it." Hawkins said the note was signed "YGR," which Allen understood to mean "Your Girlfriend Rebecca."

Allen said Wednesday that the affair lasted from December 1999 to August 2003 and was "the worst mistake of my life." Since ending the affair, Allen said, he has been committed to repairing the damage it did to his relationship with his wife, Lisa, a Municipal Court judge, and his two children.

But Collins' lawyers say Allen continued to pursue her throughout this year and, in April, fondled her and "attempted to become intimate" with her after calling her into his office.

"Some of the activity alleged occurred on county time and on county property," said Randy Freking, one of Collins' attorneys.

Earlier this year, Collins claims, Allen left a single red rose on her desk and kissed her in a stairwell at the prosecutor's office "without invitation."

On other occasions, she said, he entered her apartment without permission, called her cell phone repeatedly and went into her office so often she had to lock the door to keep him out.

And when she began a job in a different department, Collins claims, Allen forced her to keep an office near his own.

Collins started work at the prosecutor's office in June 1999 as an intern while attending law school at the University of Cincinnati. She later became a clerk in the office and was hired as an assistant prosecutor in 2001, a job she still holds.

Before going to work for Allen, Collins worked at The Cincinnati Enquirer as a news aide from 1991 to 1998, performing mostly clerical duties. Her personnel file at the prosecutor's office contained no reprimands or disciplinary action.

Collins, who has a teenage son, married another man Nov. 1, 2003, but got a divorce last month. Freking said Allen attempted to continue his relationship with her even after she was married.

He said Collins filed the lawsuit because she knew of no other way to stop what she said were unwanted advances. He said she considered going to the police to report she was being harassed but feared that Allen, a former police officer, would interfere.

Freking said Collins also was hesitant to file an internal complaint because those complaints are handled by the prosecutor's office, which Allen runs. Some county officeholders send complaints to the county personnel department, but they are not required to do so.

Collins gave a written complaint to her supervisor Aug. 12.

"She made the decision with a lot of fear and trepidation," Freking said.

That complaint led to talks with Allen about a possible out-of-court settlement. But when those discussions went nowhere, Freking said, Collins opted to sue.

Hawkins said Allen knew a suit was possible when he admitted the affair Wednesday but was shocked by the allegations. He said the relationship had remained amicable since it ended and that Allen loaned Collins $500 this summer.

"He thought he was helping a friend," Hawkins said.

Email dhorn@enquirer.com, scoolidge@enquirer.com, candrews@enquirer.com

Go online to read the full text of the federal lawsuit filed against Hamilton County prosecutor Mike Allen.Keyword: Mike Allen




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