Friday, August 27, 2004

Office affairs are high-stakes gambles

By John Eckberg
Enquirer staff writer

Employee lawsuit: Allen coerced sex
On home turf, prosecutor's all the talk
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Video: Allen's statement
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Most companies regularly convene seminars to caution bosses and subordinates about the pitfalls of office sexual relationships, said Steve Browne, director of human resources for CDS Associates Inc.

Firms do it for a good reason:

"Even though the relationship may seem consensual, if the employee feels that it is not and claims harassment, the law is written in the employee's favor," said Browne, former president of the Greater Cincinnati Human Resources Association and former president of the local arm of the Society for Human Resources.

The high-stakes nature of harassment charges mean supervisors usually get the most intense training, said Brown.

"From a human-resources perspective, we take the issue very, very seriously," he said.

A claim of sexual harassment filed Thursday in U.S. District Court by assistant prosecutor Rebecca Collins against her boss, Hamilton County Prosecutor Mike Allen, is probably not a surprise to the people who work with the pair, said psychologist Jane C. Gregory of Blue Ash Psychology Center.

Relationships almost always create an undercurrent in the office where the two work.

"There's office gossip," Gregory said. "It creates an atmosphere of mistrust when people in the office know that something is going on."

Public agencies have the identical liability as private companies, said Cindy-Ann L. Thomas, managing director of Taft HR Solutions, an affiliate of law firm Taft, Stettinius & Hollister that provides training on workplace discrimination and harassment.

While most cases are settled before trial, those that do get to court usually wind up as examples of he said/she said.

"These are uncomfortable situations with uncomfortable facts splashed out for all the world to see," Thomas said. "Often, that is a motivating factor to resolve them before they get to jury deliberation."

When a relationship developed at work goes well, it can end in a wedding or at least friendship.

"But when relationships developed at the workplace go bad," Thomas said, "they go really, really, really bad."


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