Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray, who was sworn in Thursday, says he would like to settle the two sexual harassment complaints filed during Marc Dann’s scandal-ridden tenure if there is a “reasonable basis” for an agreement. Here’s a reality check for Cordray: There is no justification for paying off the two women, neither of whom had any specialized knowledge or experience that would have caused them to be hired to work in the largest law firm in the state.
Let Cindy Stankowski and Vanessa Stout take their sexual harassment complaints against Anthony Gutierrez, a member of Dann’s inner circle in the AG’s office, to court. Their demand for $900,000, including legal fees, should prompt this reaction from Cordray: When hell freezes over.
Stankowski and Stout weren’t babes in the woods — or perhaps they were — when Gutierrez hooked up with them and, as director of general services, put them on the public payroll. With all the extracurricular activities that took place over the 17 months Dann was in office, the idea that the two women were reluctant participants is ridiculous.
That’s why a full-blown trial is necessary. Everyone involved in this sordid period in the history of the attorney general’s office should be required to testify under oath.
The behavior of Dann, Gutierrez and the third member of the inner circle, Leo Jennings III, who served as communications director, is well documented. Dann had an extramarital affair with his then scheduler, Jessica Utovich, and Jennings had an extramarital affair with a lawyer in the office, Jennifer Urban. The three Mahoning Valley residents shared a condo in Columbus and carried on in a way that would make frat rats blush.
That said, there is nothing to suggest that Stankowski, Stout and Urban, whose sexual harassment claim against Jennings and Gutierrez was tossed out by Dann’s temporary replacement, Nancy Rogers, dean of the law school at Ohio State University, were pressured to participate in the extracurricular activities.
A judge or jury should decide whether Stankowski and Stout were sexually harassed, and if they were what monetary settlement is justified. The idea that the state of Ohio, which is in a financial tailspin, should agree to their $1 million demand is ludicrous.
There also is a political aspect to this case that the former state treasurer, Cordray, who won election in November to served out the two years remaining in Dann’s term, cannot ignore.
Republicans are having a field day with the Dann scandal, portraying the former attorney general and his cohorts as a bunch of misfits who embarrassed the state of Ohio, the attorney general’s office and state government.
If Cordray hopes to win election to a full term, he must show that he isn’t afraid of the truth coming out in open court. If he pays anything to the two women to have their sexual harassment complaints withdrawn, he will be accused by the Republicans of buying their silence.
Last July, in arguing that the behavior of Stankowski and Stout are germane to the case, this writer also pointed to Urban’s relationship with Jennings. She had filed an internal office complaint of sexual harassment.
“Sexual harassment in the work place must not be ignored, but the state has a duty to make sure the complaints filed have merit,” the column stated.
On Dec. 28, Urban sent this writer an e-mail following the release of state Inspector General Thomas P. Charles’ report on his investigation of Dann and the others. She contended that the report “proved” that Jennings had sexually harassed her and that Dann knew about it.
“I think you owe me an apology for calling me a golddigger in print. You impugned my motives without contacting me, without knowing the whole story, and without pause. I was disgusted to read your article and deserve an apology.”
Last week, Urban was fired by outgoing Attorney General Rogers and her claims of harassment were rejected.
As for what the inspector general says about her relationship with Jennings, it’s not something she would want to include on her r sum .