Ohio AG might be changing tune on mediating claims
COLUMBUS, Ohio (Legal Newsline) -- Following a few weeks of exchanging letters and faxes with the Columbus lawyer representing the two women claiming they were sexually harassed by Ohio AG Marc Dann and one of his top underlings, there's been some movement toward resolving the dispute.
Dann resigned May 14 after admitting to having an affair with a staff member and amid other allegations of misconduct in office. Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland named Nancy Hardin Rogers the Ohio AG on May 21.
In a June 16 letter to Rex Elliott, the lawyer for Cindy Stankoski and Vanessa Stout, signed by Rogers and Michael C. McPhillips, section chief of the AG's Employment Law section, the AG indicated she is willing to negotiate the allegations. She also noted she is deciding between handling the matter in-house or whether to hire outside counsel. No deadline for that decision was given, although Rogers indicated it "may take several days."
Elliott said that in each of his communications with the AG's office about the women's allegations, he has consistently maintained his clients are flexible in their settlement demands. "We have made it clear we have negotiating flexibility," he said. In addition to seeking financial damages for the hostile work environment the women have been subjected to during their tenure with the AG's general services division, where they continue to work, Elliott said his clients would also consider leaving their jobs as part of a settlement. "I have a hard time believing they'll be able to continue in their jobs because of the disruption" the entire situation has brought to their lives and work. However, if, the women do agree to vacate their jobs, "that will raise the price tag," of a settlement, said Elliott.
Elliott's current demands include $400,000 for each woman plus attorney fees, bringing the total to approximately $900,000. However, if the parties are unable to agree on a reasonable amount or discussions take too long, Elliott said he is fully prepared to file suit. That would mean that discovery would occur during the upcoming election season, a fate Elliott projected the AG's office would want to avoid.
However, a Rogers spokesman countered that the AG is not concerned about that. "The elections will absolutely not interfere. That would be to suggest if we reach a settlement today, it [publicity] would go away," said Jim Gravelle, press secretary for Rogers. "If they want to try to reach a settlement, then we'll talk to them," he said.
For his part, Elliott said he would have been surprised if the AG's office had not agreed to mediate the dispute. "It would be insane for the State of Ohio to let this go into litigation where it could cost so much more."