COLUMBUS, Ohio (Legal Newsline) — The Columbus lawyer representing the two women who filed sexual harassment charges against disgraced former Ohio AG Marc Dann and their immediate supervisor, Anthony Gutierrez, last February says the state’s new AG is not being responsive to his request to mediate the dispute.
“I’m having a heckuva time understanding what is taking so long for them to give me an answer,” says Rex Elliott, the lawyer representing Cindy Stankoski and Vanessa Stout.
Elliott says about two weeks ago, he sent a letter to Ohio AG Nancy Hardin Rogers, inquiring about her stance on mediating the dispute. Rogers was named AG by Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland last month following Dann’s resignation May 14. She’ll remain in office until a special election for the job can be held this November
Elliott says the AG’s office responded that while they “might agree,” they preferred that Elliott provide them with an opening demand. However, Elliott says he is not willing to put a formal demand in writing, but did, instead, summarize his clients’ position in a letter to Rogers.
“The state is liable,” Elliott says emphatically, adding Ohio is culpable on three fronts. First, the two women continue to be employed on the “15th floor,” referring to the location of their jobs in the general services division of the AG’s office in the James Rhodes State Office tower in downtown Columbus. While that alone is not an issue, the women are “still being subjected to retaliatory conduct, threats and a fair amount of hostile conduct by colleagues,” says Elliott.
Secondly, the women are seeking financial compensation for the “horrific ordeal” they experienced since this past February, when they notified supervisors of their hostile work environment. They also want their attorney fees paid. “An enormous amount of time has been put into this case since early February,” says Elliott.
It’s not surprising that Elliott views the state as liable, but his stance is supported by the findings of Ben Espy, who was Dann’s Executive Attorney General and the lead investigator of an inner-office investigation into the women’s allegations. Espy’s report, released May 2, concluded that the sexual harassment allegations were true, the women worked in a hostile work environment and that when supervisors were notified of the women’s contentions, they did nothing. Dann had placed Gutierrez on paid administrative leave April 7 and then Gutierrez was fired immediately following the release of that report.
“The state is on the hook for the unlawful actions of Marc Dann and Anthony Gutierrez,” says Elliott.
In communicating with the AG’s office via letter, “the only response I hoped for was ‘do you want to mediate?’” says Elliott. He says if he doesn’t receive a response soon, he will file suit on behalf of his clients. If he does, he estimates the attorney fees alone will be astronomical, noting they could reach the millions. Not only that, depositions and discovery will occur throughout the fall and the election season, and Elliott says he wonders how that publicity might impact various elections.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for Rogers says she “will be responding to” Elliott. However, Ted Hart declined to provide further details, saying it would be inappropriate to discuss the matter further. Hart did confirm, however, that Elliott had sent letters to the Attorney General. “They sent us a letter asking if you’d be open [to negotiations] and we said, ‘Let’s talk.’ They sent us another letter asking us to respond by today, but it isn’t going to be today,” says Hart.
For the record, the ‘today’ Hart referred to was Friday the 13th.