By Peter H. Milliken
Dann’s spokesman says the probe will be thorough.
COLUMBUS — Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann will stay out of the internal investigation of sexual harassment complaints filed against one of the agency’s top managers by two female employees.
According to The Columbus Dispatch, however, the two women who leveled the accusations against Anthony Gutierrez, 50, Dann’s director of general services, expressing fears that the attorney general’s office would not adequately investigate itself, filed complaints later Tuesday with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The federal equal employment commission investigates allegations of discrimination and other violations of federal employment law and operates independently of Dann’s office and other branches of state government.
It may conduct an investigation at the same time as a matter is being internally reviewed by an employer, commission spokeswoman Christine Nazer told the Columbus newspaper.
For purposes of a workplace complaint, a state governmental office such as Dann’s is treated no differently than a private employer, she said. Records of an investigation become public only when a lawsuit is filed, Nazer added.
Leo Jennings III, communications chief for the attorney general, said Dann recused himself “because he’ll be interviewed as part of the investigation.” Dann made the announcement in a release Tuesday, and Jennings said his boss would have no further comment.
Jennings added the office is conducting a complete and thorough investigation of the complaints.
“We’ve been doing that since they came to light,” Jennings said, declining to discuss specifics of the ongoing investigation.
The two female employees, Vanessa Stout of Dublin and Cindy Stankowski of New Albany, both 26, who work in the attorney general’s telecommunications office, filed sexual harassment complaints last week against Gutierrez, their boss.
Gutierrez, a longtime friend of Dann’s, was placed on paid leave Monday. He earns $87,500 a year and serves at Dann’s pleasure.
Stout and Stankowski claim Gutierrez frequently pressured them to have sex, often telling them “you owe me” in reference to his getting them $14-an-hour state jobs.
In a terse one-paragraph letter dated Tuesday, Dann thanked his executive assistant, Ben Espy, for agreeing to oversee the probe, offered him whatever resources he needs to conduct it, and asked him to direct his report to Thomas R. Winters, first assistant attorney general.
The Dispatch reported that normally the attorney general has the final say on discipline resulting from harassment and other workplace complaints. Dann’s aides said the attorney general rarely exercises that authority, most often leaving decisions to Winters, and Edgar Simpson, his top nonlegal aide.
Winters is a longtime Columbus lawyer and sometime Democratic lobbyist.
Unlike Simpson, Jennings and Gutierrez, Winters is not connected to Dann by personal friendships. Winters did, however, contribute to Espy’s unsuccessful 2006 Supreme Court campaign, the Dispatch reported.
When asked why the Ohio State Highway Patrol or some other independent outside investigative agency wasn’t called in to conduct the investigation, Jennings said the attorney general’s equal employment opportunity process “begins with an internal investigation.”
“We have every confidence in the process. This is the way issues of this nature have been handled in the office by us and our predecessors, and we’re going to follow the process to the letter,” he added.
If the complaining employees aren’t satisfied with the results of the internal probe, an appeals process is available that brings in an outside investigator to review the complaints, he said.
The women told the Dispatch that Angie Smedlund, the attorney general’s equal employment opportunity officer, suggested to them that Gutierrez could be transferred and that she would try to resolve the matter without making it public. Both employees said they refused that proposal.
The attorney general’s office policy is for Smedlund to offer the complaining employees an opportunity to resolve their complaints informally and ask them if they’d like to offer a resolution they’d find acceptable, Jennings said. “We don’t offer them anything,” Jennings added.
“It’s impossible to engage in a cover-up,” Jennings said, noting that all public records generated by the investigation are released once the probe is complete, even if the case is resolved informally.
In addition to Espy, Dann also appointed Julie Pfeiffer, assistant attorney general from the office’s employment law section, to oversee the probe.
Dann shared a Dublin condominium with Jennings and Gutierrez until Dann moved out in December.
Stankowski contended in her complaint that Gutierrez pressed her to have a drink with him after work, and she became intoxicated and increasingly uncomfortable with his sexual comments. While they were out, Dann called Gutierrez and invited them to come to the condo for pizza.
There, Stankowski said she asked to lie down because she wasn’t feeling well and woke up later with Gutierrez next to her in bed.
When Dann hired Gutierrez in February 2007, Gutierrez had 27 tax liens and civil judgments filed against him and had once declared bankruptcy. Gutierrez and his wife, Lisa Marie, also owed more than $10,000 in federal taxes and were on a payment plan with the IRS.
Gutierrez, formerly a self-employed general contractor, also owed $5,025 in state income taxes, and the state settled with him and his wife for $3,095 in January 2007.
Despite Gutierrez’ financial woes, Dann hired him for the job because Dann believed Gutierrez was the best-qualified candidate, Jennings said. A check of Gutierrez’ r sum reveals more than 25 years of business management experience in the construction industry, but no prior law enforcement, legal or government employment experience.
Dann, who took office in January 2007, has had some difficulty with the hiring of key employees, including former Youngstown Police Detective Sgt. Rick Alli, his chief of law enforcement operations, who Dann fired for improperly taking two public salaries.
Dann also fired David L. Nelson of Liberty as deputy security director because of Nelson’s 1976 involuntary manslaughter conviction, and Rick Houze, his top fiscal watchdog, because Houze’s CPA license had expired.
“There are 1,400 outstanding people who work in this office, and you’re talking about four,” Jennings said of Alli, Nelson, Houze and Gutierrez.