All Sides of the Story Needed in Judging Sexual-Harassment Complaints
After two employees in the Ohio attorney general’s office filed sexual-harassment complaints against the office’s director of general services in March 2008, Attorney General Marc Dann assigned two top lawyers in the office to investigate. The accused director, Anthony Gutierrez, was a longtime friend and former roommate of Dann.
by Joe Sommer
January 5, 2010
The investigation concluded that Gutierrez had subjected the women to “a hostile work environment” of sexual harassment. He was immediately fired. Two other managers who were also longtime friends of Dann were forced out for allegedly mishandling the complaints. Dann himself admitted to a consensual affair with his scheduler, who then resigned.
During the Ohio media’s frenzy over the story, Gov. Ted Strickland and other state Democratic officials hastily called for fellow-Democrat Dann to resign or be impeached. Democrats in the Ohio House of Representatives soon introduced an impeachment resolution.
Strickland also tried to turn Dann’s top aides against him by informing them in advance that Democratic leaders were going to demand Dann’s resignation. The aides were reportedly offered jobs to lure them away. And the Ohio Democratic Party further isolated Dann by revoking its previous endorsement of his 2006 campaign for the attorney general’s office.
Upon receiving authority to investigate by Strickland and the Ohio legislature, the state inspector general invaded and ransacked the attorney general’s office. His agents removed documents, computers, and other electronic equipment. They stripped Dann of his computer, BlackBerry, and state vehicle.
Altogether, these acts crippled Dann’s ability to function as attorney general. He was compelled to resign after being in office only 16 months, despite having been elected to a four-year term by over 2 million Ohioans. Along with ending Dann’s career as Ohio’s most populist elected statewide official in decades, the dreams of many who worked under him were dashed.
Tragically, these outcomes stemmed from a flawed investigation report and unfair media coverage of what turned out to be, on closer inspection, bogus allegations of sexual harassment. By focusing mainly on the side of the story told by the two complainants, the report and coverage fueled the extreme acts taken against Dann.
This matter shows that examining all sides of a story is essential for justice to be done in responding to sexual-harassment complaints.
The scofflaw complainants
The complaints were filed by Cindy Stankoski and Vanessa Stout, two 26-year-old employees in the general services section.
Stankoski began work in the section on August 20, 2007. Her father, who worked for the Ohio Building Authority, had approached Gutierrez about the possibility of a job for his daughter. Gutierrez helped them both by hiring her as a telecommunications assistant.
Stout’s employment in general services began on November 26, 2007. She was a single mother of two and a neighbor of Gutierrez. He helped her obtain a position as a telecommunications assistant after she told him she needed a job.
Neither Stankoski nor Stout had been to college. But their backgrounds included run-ins with the law. The inspector general’s report described Stout as having an “extensive criminal history.”
Before being hired, Stout had been convicted of retail theft three times: once each in Pittsburgh and Hermitage, Pennsylvania, and once in Niles, Ohio. That was in addition to convictions for assault, harassment, and driving under the influence. Moreover, a warrant had been issued because of her failure to appear for a DUI charge. After being hired, Stout was convicted of disorderly conduct while intoxicated, pulled over for driving with expired tags, and arrested for drug possession.
The attorney general’s chief operating officer told investigators that when she learned of Stout’s criminal past, she exclaimed, “I can’t believe we hired this woman.” She said she expressed to others in the office that “you need to fire her. . . . I’m looking at an employee that should never have been on our payroll.” The human resources director likewise told investigators that a criminal record such as Stout’s would normally disqualify an applicant from employment.
Stankoski repeatedly violated the traffic laws. She had a speeding offense in 1999, two speeding offenses in 2002, and two more in 2006. She was cited for a turn-signal violation and improper passing in 2006. And she was in a traffic accident in 2007. Based on this driving record, the human resources director told investigators she “certainly would not have recommended” Stankoski for employment.
In view of their legal problems that would have disqualified other applicants, Stankoski and Stout were given huge breaks when Gutierrez hired them for the attorney general’s office.
The three amigos
Stankoski, Stout, and Gutierrez greatly enjoyed working together in general services. That is shown by testimony their coworkers gave to investigators.
The section’s administrative secretary testified that Stankoski was comfortable being around Gutierrez and would “go in his office a lot” and “shut the door and talk.” The secretary made clear that Stankoski was the one who closed the door: “She walked in. She shut the door.” And this behavior continued at least through Christmas 2007.
Also in regard to Gutierrez’s office, the same witness testified that both Stout and Stankoski “were in and out a lot.” She said Stout would go into Gutierrez’s office, joke with him, and “close the door and have lunch in there sometimes.” She said Gutierrez and Stout had “an easy-going camaraderie,” “interacted positively,” “had a nice friendship,” and joked between them “just like they were old friends.”
Overall, the administrative secretary saw no problem between Gutierrez and the two women. Instead, the relationships were friendly and “there was teasing both ways.”
The section’s fixed-asset manager testified that Gutierrez and Stankoski joked together. She thought they were friends outside of work. She also stated that Gutierrez and the two women would have lunch in his office and frequently take smoke breaks together.
A telecommunications assistant testified that Gutierrez and Stankoski had similar personalities, were “sort of cut from the same thread,” and “seemed like they were pals.” He stated that Stankoski and Stout joked with Gutierrez in the office. He explained that “anybody would” because Gutierrez “was a likeable guy.”
The same assistant testified that neither Stankoski nor Stout expressed to him any dissatisfaction with Gutierrez when they worked together in general services. He was around the two a lot and never witnessed Gutierrez mistreat them. He mentioned being surprised the women had filed complaints.
According to the section’s deputy director, Stout and Gutierrez were buddies. He explained that “they always had a laughing relationship. . . . We all joked around, but . . . you could tell they had a good relationship.” And he never saw a change in Gutierrez’s treatment of her when she worked in the section.
One of the section’s facilities managers noted about the interaction between Gutierrez and the two women: “He joked around with them. They joked around with each other.”
Another facilities manager, whose desk was beside Stankoski’s, regularly conversed with her. Stankoski never shared with him that she was having a problem with Gutierrez. He testified that Gutierrez and Stankoski “were both kind of flirty with each other.” He said the same was true of Gutierrez and Stout. But he didn’t think Gutierrez had subjected either to harassment.
One witness was an assistant attorney general who didn’t work in general services but had dined at a restaurant with Stankoski, Gutierrez, and another employee of the attorney general’s office one evening in October 2007. She described the relationship between Stankoski and Gutierrez as “very laid back.” She said the two “were friends,” and Stankoski “was not reluctant to be near him.”
Finally, the attorney general’s communications director testified that Gutierrez and Stout, as neighbors, liked to smoke together outside their apartments.
The common theme of these coworkers was that there was a close friendship and jovial interaction between Gutierrez and the two women.
As is sometimes the case with good friends, Stankoski and Stout’s relationship with Gutierrez included communication on the subject of sex. Besides their flirting with him as mentioned by coworkers, the women broached the subject in other ways.
In a discussion outside their apartments shortly before she was hired, Stout informed Gutierrez that her boyfriend had become jealous of her sex toy, which was her “battery-operated boyfriend” (or “Bob”), and broken it. According to Gutierrez, Stout had to explain to him what a Bob was, because he didn’t know. Stout testified they laughed about the boyfriend’s behavior.
A few weeks after that humorous conversation, Gutierrez bought Stout a replacement sex toy as a gag gift. When he gave it to her in his apartment in the presence of one of her girlfriends (who didn’t work at the attorney general’s office), all three laughed about it. Stout testified that when she received the gift she was laughing and said she always wanted one. She told investigators she thought her complaint about the breaking of her previous sex toy was “why he got me one.”
In regard to this matter, the inspector general’s report said it “suggests that Stout and Gutierrez had an overly familiar relationship that began long before Stout accused Gutierrez of sexual harassment, raising serious questions about the merits of Stout’s EEO complaint.”
Additionally, Stout sent text messages, which she described as “jokes and stuff,” to Gutierrez and other coworkers. A general services assistant testified that some of the jokes were “dirty.” Gutierrez described one, which Stout sent to him around Christmas 2007, as an “explicit joke” involving Santa Claus.
Stout also used profanity in the office. For instance, the administrative secretary told investigators about Stout storming into Gutierrez’s office upon arriving at work one morning. Stout proceeded to interrupt the secretary’s serious discussion with him by “throwing the F bomb.” Stout was very angry about how she had been treated by a security guard when she entered the building that morning.
In regard to Stankoski, the inspector general’s report suggests she dressed provocatively and behaved unprofessionally in the office. It goes on: “During our investigation, we found several risqué photos of Cindy Stankoski on [coworker] Mariellen Aranda's cell phone. In each, Stankoski flirtatiously sported Gutierrez's Attorney General-issued badge at her bosom.”
The fact that Stankoski possessed Gutierrez's state-issued badge is more evidence of her close relationship with him. And the pictures sent a clear message that she was willing to engage in sexually oriented behavior and communication in the office.
The same conclusion is supported by Stankoski’s willingness to send other types of messages about sex. The office’s fixed-asset manager testified that Stankoski sent her and others text messages of jokes “that could be dirty in nature, or of sexual nature.”
Stankoski used profanity in the office too. A telecommunications assistant said Stankoski cussed in the office “more than your average 25-year-old woman that works in an office.” The administrative secretary told investigators that Stankoski, like Stout, used profanity in Gutierrez’s presence.
Obviously, the women were willing to initiate and engage in sexually oriented communication with Gutierrez and other coworkers. In this atmosphere, it would not be surprising that Gutierrez, who had been a construction contractor for 27 years before joining the attorney general’s office in February 2007, used profanity in the office and made some sexually oriented comments.
But he doesn’t appear to have been worse than the two women. As a general services assistant testified, Gutierrez “said things that were inappropriate. So did they.” She described Stout and Stankoski as participants in that type of culture.
Other witnesses said Stout, in particular, “made inappropriate comments about employees.” And a telecommunications assistant said he almost complained to the human resources section about Stankoski’s inappropriate comments, including cussing at him in the office, on a particular occasion.
More partying and playing
Stankoski and Stout also liked to have other types of fun with people from the office. A general services assistant told investigators: “Cindy and Vanessa are both partyers. And when I heard that they filed [the sexual-harassment complaints], I was shocked, honestly, because they go out all the time, they hit on people, other coworkers, and other married coworkers.”
As an example, the assistant said she saw Stankoski “hitting on” a married coworker at a happy hour that some of the office’s employees had gone to after work. She said “they were kissing and hugging and rubbing parts that they shouldn’t have been.” When several people at the event asked Stankoski what she was doing, she answered that she and the married man were having fun.
Regarding Stankoski’s behavior the same evening, the assistant also testified: “She was drunk that night. And . . . when I called for my boyfriend to come pick me up, I also . . . told him to bring somebody with him to drive her home, because she was drunk and shouldn’t have been driving. And so my boyfriend called his best friend . . . and he drove all the way downtown to pick her up, and she refused to leave.”
As for Stankoski’s conduct at after-work gatherings generally, an investigator commented to one of the office’s facilities managers: “It’s my understanding that at some of these happy hours where people would get together Cindy would get extremely intoxicated. Did you ever see that?”
The manager answered: “Yeah, I’ve seen her get just a little crazy. . . . But I think that’s just kind of her personality.” He agreed she probably would become more intoxicated than the average person at a happy hour.
Similarly, the fixed-asset manager testified that Stankoski “drinks a lot” and has a reputation for doing so. She told investigators about another night when Stankoski got so drunk that “there was no way she was gonna drive.” Stankoski had to be driven to the manager’s apartment to sleep it off. In the morning, the manager drove her to her car that was still parked downtown.
Stankoski had a similar experience when she went drinking with Gutierrez after work the evening of September 10, 2007. Stankoski said she got so “trashed” that she was slurring her speech, got sick, and blacked out. She ended up passed out for the evening in Gutierrez’s apartment, where they had gone for pizza. He had to drive her downtown to her car in the morning. But she still went out for drinks with him by herself after that night.
Stout also liked to drink. The deputy director of human resources said Stout told her that, as Gutierrez’s neighbor, she often visited his apartment and “had drinks with him frequently.” Stout testified that she went to Gutierrez’s apartment “five to 10 times” after being hired. She also admitted to going out for drinks with him in the fall of 2007.
Besides drinking with Gutierrez in bars, Stankoski shot pool with him in a bar, and Stout did the same in another bar.
Moreover, Stankoski and Stout were pranksters. The administrative secretary described one of the pranks the two played on Gutierrez in the office. She said Stankoski and Stout telephoned Gutierrez throughout a workday pretending to be someone who was “going to get him.”
The secretary said the two “talked in a dark, solemn voice” and were “making short, brief statements, just to escalate fear.” By trying to make him think someone was going to “get him” and attempting to instill ever greater fear in him, the women could be described as engaging in harassment themselves. But to them it was a very funny joke.
Coworkers described other pranks involving unprofessional, juvenile, and even scatological behavior by Stankoski and Stout in the office. These acts were performed not only in front of coworkers but also involved “acting like the office is a joke” while people from the outside were there. It’s no wonder none of the witnesses described the two as class acts.
Monday – Friday happy days
Until about the end of December 2007, Stankoski and Stout appeared to be extremely pleased working in Gutierrez’s section. The section’s deputy director said Stankoski did not want to be transferred from general services “because she loved what she was doing. She loved working in our section.” Stout also enjoyed working in general services and did not want to leave.
The section’s administrative secretary said the atmosphere in the office from September to December 2007 was “lighthearted.” She further described the office as “jovial,” “exciting,” “happy-go-lucky,” “business oriented,” and “business minded.”
Additionally, the work in general services was being performed well. The attorney general’s chief operating officer e-mailed Gutierrez at the beginning of 2008: “Tony, I want to take this opportunity to Thank You and your staff for a phenomenal job this year!! . . . You guys have done an incredible job. . . . I also want you to pass along my sentiments to the rest of your staff. . . . Again, thanks for all of the improvements, agency wide, that you and the GS Team have accomplished this year!!” The attorney general likewise felt that innovative and excellent work was being performed by the section.
Stankoski was so grateful to be in this fun and productive section that she made a Boss’s Day card for Gutierrez in October. She apparently believed that buying him a card wasn’t enough. She felt impelled to add a more personal touch by going to the time and effort of making the card herself.
In December, Stankoski and Stout planned and organized Gutierrez’s birthday party. A general services assistant testified that the two came up with the idea on their own to have the party. She said they “sent an e-mail out to all of general services, the library, office services, and said, we want to do something for Tony for his birthday. If you want to pitch in $5 or whatever, we’re going to go get subs or something.”
In planning the party, Stankoski sought suggestions from coworkers for practical jokes to play on Gutierrez. On the day of the party, which turned out to be a very good day in the office, Stankoski and Stout picked up the food for it from a sub shop.
Also in December, Stankoski referred a girlfriend for employment in the same office. She obviously wanted to share the job satisfaction with someone she knew.
During these happy days in general services, few would have suspected that Stout and Stankoski were being harassed sexually or in any other way. Many people can only dream of being as delighted at work as they seemed to be.
Trouble in paradise
This blissful state of affairs was to end shortly after the beginning of 2008. And the cause was Stout’s tendency to send racy text messages to coworkers.
Stout sent Gutierrez and others a message saying “it’s Happy New Year’s, let’s party, let’s have Bacardi and you’re my bitch for New Year’s.” Unfortunately, Gutierrez’s wife saw the message. Then Bacardi hit the fan.
Although Stout later told investigators the message was a “risqué joke,” Gutierrez’s wife found it anything but funny. She demanded that Stout be reprimanded for making that offer to her husband. So Gutierrez deferred to the wishes of his own boss by writing up a reprimand, albeit in an unenthusiastic and perfunctory manner. And Stout signed it.
Nevertheless, the text message evidently caused Gutierrez’s wife and her good friend the attorney general’s wife to become very uncomfortable about Gutierrez working in the same office with a young woman who would make such offers to him and others.
Apparently as a result, steps were soon taken to have Stout transferred to another section, where she would be in a different building and under a different director. The transfer occurred on January 18, 2008. Stout confided to a telecommunications assistant that she had been transferred because of the text message.
Particularly in view of Stout’s criminal record and the fact, as shown below, that she had lied on her employment application and during her employment interview, a reprimand and transfer were mild treatment for sending her section’s director, who was married with children, an invitation to drink, party, and be her “bitch” for New Year’s. As an employee-at-will who had been on the job only about five weeks, Stout could have been fired on the spot. At many organizations, she would have been.
But the attorney general’s office kept her as an employee, although in a different section. According to the chief operating officer, who wanted to fire Stout, the reason she wasn’t terminated was that the chief of policy and administration was “just a nice guy.” Additionally, Gutierrez was nice enough to not submit the written reprimand to the human resources section, thus protecting Stout’s work record. He also helped her by telling the director of her new section that “Vanessa’s a good kid.” And the director of that section made sure Stout was treated well and provided with any support she needed.
Notwithstanding management’s kindness to Stout, she and Stankoski remained very upset about the transfer. A general services assistant said about the change in the two women: “I thought everything was fine [and] everybody was happy until Vanessa got transferred. And then . . . they were like third-graders, they couldn’t be separated. They were both in a bad mood all the time.” She also said that after the transfer, Stankoski wouldn’t talk with Gutierrez or look at him.
Probably because of Stankoski’s own flirtatious and unprofessional behavior in the office, including her willingness to send “dirty” jokes or other texts “of sexual nature,” she feared she too might be transferred, despite her immediate supervisor’s assurances that she wouldn’t be. She also must have known that if Gutierrez’s wife ever saw the risqué photos of her posing flirtatiously with his attorney general-issued badge at her bosom, she would be history in the section faster than Stout was.
Stankoski strongly didn’t want that to happen. As she said about the possibility of leaving Gutierrez’s section: “I enjoy the work that I do. I enjoy finally having a real job. I didn’t want to get transferred. What if I didn’t like my work or like the people I worked with?”
Playing the sexual-harassment card
Stout had initially been told the transfer would be for a temporary period of six to eight weeks. Possibly the transfer was at first made temporary with the hope that the wives would cool down and not be so concerned about a carousing and flirtatious party girl working with the husband of one of them, even though they knew she had already sent at least one salacious invitation to him.
Not surprisingly, any such hope was eventually given up. Stout learned in March 2008 that the transfer had been made permanent. At that point, she marched straight to the human resources section to complain.
Until then, Stout had never complained to any manager about Gutierrez’s behavior. About a month earlier, Gutierrez had met her at a bar to buy her a birthday drink, and they played some games of pool there. They also had occasionally been conversing, as friends, at other times during the initial weeks of the transfer. And when Stout first went to human resources, the persons she spoke with were unsure of the exact nature of her complaint, except they could see she was very upset about the transfer.
The deputy director of human resources told investigators about that first meeting: “I stopped writing. I stopped, because she seemed to be all over the place with just a lot of extraneous things that I didn’t think had to do with her specific issue.” Although Stout mentioned some sexual matters at the meeting, she didn’t specifically allege sexual harassment. The deputy was unable to determine from the meeting whether sexual harassment was part of the complaint, or if Stout was just angry about the transfer.
But Stout did make clear at the meeting that she wanted transferred back to Gutierrez’s section, even though he was still there and she was being treated well in her new section. The human resources director quoted Stout as saying about working in general services: “I liked it there. . . . I enjoyed my job. I liked working with Cindy, and I liked the people over there.”
It wasn’t long, though, before Stout and Stankoski decided that sexual-harassment complaints could be their tickets to not only continue working together in general services but also to obtain money and notoriety. Plus, the complaints would be a means of revenge against Gutierrez and anyone else responsible for the transfer. The women believed that those goals could be attained by claiming that Stout had been transferred, and Stankoski soon would be, because they had refused Gutierrez’s alleged sexual overtures.
So at future meetings with human resources personnel, Stout began telling stories of how Gutierrez had repeatedly asked to watch her use the sex toy he had given her four months earlier. She further said he requested “if not every day, every other day” to have sex with her. She stated he asked her to go out for drinks “daily.” And she contended he “always” would say she owed him for getting her the job.
Suddenly Stankoski too claimed to be offended by Gutierrez’s alleged behavior, which she said included telling her she owed him. She claimed he pressured her to go out for drinks and “would not take no for an answer.” She said he was “always” inappropriate in conversations with her. She stated he “always” undressed her with his eyes, constantly leered at her body, and made comments about it “a lot.” She said she believed she was being “set up for failure because I didn’t accept the sexual advances . . . he would make.”
Stankoski asserted that Gutierrez started creeping her out when she first interviewed for the job. In conversations with her, he allegedly was “biting on his lip in a very sexual, disgusting way.” She stated she’s been in an “uncomfortable environment” and it’s been “very hard” for months. She claimed to have “absolutely” felt uncomfortable being around Gutierrez.
Most serious of all, Stankoski began saying that on the night she had passed out drunk in Gutierrez’s apartment six months earlier, she woke up with him lying beside her in his underwear. She charged that while she was passed out, he had unbuttoned all three buttons on her pants. She said the first person she told about this matter was Stout, about three months after it supposedly happened. She didn’t tell anyone else until she went to the human resources section to complain.
Additionally, Stankoski said Gutierrez later told her that he knew she had woken up with her pants undone, that he had wanted to have sex with her when she was passed out, but had decided not to because it would be wrong to do that to an employee.
In effect, Stankoski was accusing Gutierrez of committing gross sexual imposition on her with intent to commit rape. She was saying he had unbuttoned her pants intending to rape her, but decided not to because she was his employee. She said he had “violated” her.
After hearing Stankoski’s allegations, the deputy director of human resources was concerned about her safety. The deputy told investigators she said to Stankoski: “Is there anything happening now? Do I need to remove you out of harm’s way? Are you being sexually harassed now? The answers to those [questions] were no, he’s not bothering me now.”
In sum, Stout and Stankoski were claiming they had believed for months that Gutierrez was a sex offender – on the level of a rapist – who had continually subjected them to a hostile environment of sexual harassment. The harassment allegedly occurred from early September 2007 until about the beginning of 2008. Gutierrez denied virtually all the allegations.
The complaints were a crock
Based on their months of previous behavior with Gutierrez, there is no way Stout and Stankoski could be telling the truth when they suddenly began saying they had believed during those same months that he was a creep, pervert, pig, harasser, and sex criminal.
Women who feel that way about a man do not go into his office and shut the door behind them, spend a lot of time socializing and having lunch with him in his office, take smoke breaks with him, flirt with him, play pranks on him, come up with the idea of having a birthday party for him, plan and organize the party, act in a juvenile manner in his presence in the office, go out for drinks with him, shoot pool with him in a bar, or send racy text messages in the office as jokes. But Stankoski and Stout behaved in all those ways with Gutierrez.
A sexually harassed woman also does not pose for risqué photos in which she flirtatiously holds her harasser’s office-issued badge at her bosom, ask coworkers to suggest practical jokes to play on him, make a Boss’s Day card for him, refer a girlfriend for employment in his office, go out to dinner with him, go to his apartment to drink and have pizza, or get so drunk with him that she slurs her words, gets sick, blacks out, and passes out at the apartment. Stankoski did all those things
A woman working in a sexually hostile environment also does not repeatedly visit her harasser’s apartment to drink and socialize with him, smoke cigarettes and talk for hours with him outside the apartment, throw “the F bomb” in complaining to him about her treatment by a security guard, meet him at a bar to let him buy her a birthday drink, tell him about her boyfriend becoming jealous of her sex toy and breaking it, or invite him to party, have Bacardi, and be her “bitch” for New Year’s. Stout did all those things.
Also unlike Stout and Stankoski, a woman in a sexually hostile environment doesn’t say she enjoys working in her harasser’s section. And she doesn’t wait to complain about sexual harassment until she gets angry at him for transferring her out of the section, as Stout did. Nor does she wait to complain until she becomes afraid she might be transferred out of his section, as Stankoski did.
All those facts in themselves would be enough to make reasonable people laugh or jeer the two partying scofflaws and their complaints right out the door. It’s inconceivable that women would behave in such ways with a man who was sexually harassing them.
But if anyone wants more proof to further seal the case against the two women, the investigation materials show that Stout and Stankoski are serial liars who have no scruples about making false statements and hurting innocent people when it’s in their interest to do so. Neither woman is credible.
Stout the liar
Stout intentionally omitted her three theft convictions from her employment application at the attorney general’s office. She also falsely asserted on the application that she had graduated from high school when in fact she had only completed the 11th grade and had a GED.
She added to the deception at her employment interview. She said she was proficient at using several computer programs such as Word, PowerPoint, and Excel, but those statements were lies.
After receiving the sex toy as a gag gift from Gutierrez, Stout told her children’s father that a girlfriend had given it to her. She explained to investigators that she “lied to him because . . . he’s very jealous.”
Although Stout told a telecommunications assistant she was transferred because of the inappropriate text message, she later told investigators she believed she was transferred because of refusing Gutierrez’s alleged sexual advances.
Most significantly, a few months after filing her complaint against Gutierrez, Stout showed she was willing to intentionally make false statements about a coworker’s sexual behavior to obtain revenge.
During the internal investigation, a female coworker had testified that Stout and Stankoski’s complaints were “bogus.” Another female coworker had expressed surprise that complaints were filed. Both later claimed that Stout and Stankoski were retaliating against them in the office because of their testimony. They said the two were being rude, giving them dirty looks, creating a hostile work environment, and taunting, mocking, and laughing at them.
A method Stout used to retaliate against one of the women was to publicly accuse her of sexual impropriety. According to Stout’s version of what happened, when Stout arrived at the office one morning, she told the woman something like “we all know how you got your job.” This was done in a voice loud enough to be heard by coworkers.
Another female coworker submitted a written statement about the incident. She said she heard Stout say the woman was “sleeping with 3 people in the office.” The coworker also wrote that she then went into the accused woman’s office, and the woman was “shaking and her eyes were red.” Despite how upset the woman was, Stout referred to the investigation of both that incident and her accusers’ other allegations as “a joke.”
When Stout was asked by investigators what her statement about the woman meant, she “suggested that [the woman] had slept with someone or several people to get her job.” The investigators also wrote in their report: “During her interview Stout acknowledged that she did this to upset [the woman], and that she didn’t have firsthand knowledge of [her] sleeping with anyone to obtain a position in the office.”
There it is: Stout admitting to making unfounded charges about a coworker’s sexual behavior to obtain revenge, harass the person, and further her own objectives. Because Stout did this to a female coworker, she surely could do it to Gutierrez.
No one should take the word of such a low-life liar, harasser, and thief on anything, especially when doing so could ruin the careers and reputations of innocent people.
Stankoski the liar
Like Stout, Stankoski openly admits she’s a liar. In describing a time when Gutierrez asked her why she hadn’t returned his phone calls, she told investigators: “I lied to him and told him that I never listen to my voice mails and I just haven’t listened to them yet.”
As for why Stankoski had agreed to go out for drinks with Gutierrez, the human resources director said Stankoski’s explanation was that she “did not know if she rejected him, what would happen to her.” The director said this “was her theme” in responding to repeated questions about why she had met Gutierrez for drinks. Stankoski further claimed to investigators that she “felt that if I did refuse him, he would see to it that I get fired somehow in the future.”
Her theme was a lie, though, because she knew what would happen. After a work-related trip to Cincinnati in October 2007, Gutierrez invited Stankoski to join him and another employee of the attorney general’s office for dinner at a restaurant, but she declined. On another occasion that same month, when Gutierrez asked her by phone to meet him and some office employees for dinner at a restaurant, she initially refused. But a female assistant attorney general who was also going to be there called her back and convinced her to come.
Here’s what happened a few weeks after those two refusals: Gutierrez gave Stankoski a promotion and a raise by appointing her to a position that had opened up in the office.
Moreover, Stankoski must have known that her coworkers who declined Gutierrez’s social invitations suffered no retaliation. He simply stopped asking once he got the impression they weren’t interested. One of them told investigators she never felt pressured to accept his invitations or believed she might incur retaliation for declining.
In the EEO complaint Stankoski signed on March 31, 2008, she said her pants were unbuttoned when she woke up from her drunken stupor at Gutierrez’s apartment. A couple of weeks later, in speaking with the two attorneys who were investigating the matter, she told them the zipper on her pants “was a little down, but all the buttons were undone” when she got up. Neither in the complaint nor during the first interview did she say her pants fell down. But she said to the attorneys at the end of the interview: “I feel as if I’ve told you everything.”
At her next interview with them eight days later, however, one of them asked about the zipper: “Which one was it, slightly or halfway down?” Stankoski answered that “it was unzipped” and went on to say her pants fell down when she got up. Because the story had changed from the pants being just unbuttoned, to the zipper also being “a little down,” to the zipper being “unzipped” such that her pants fell down, Stankoski was not being truthful during at least two renditions of it.
And even if her pants were unbuttoned or unzipped, Stankoski might have done it herself and not remembered because her excessive drinking had caused her, as she indicated, to black out.
In two written statements Stankoski gave to investigators, she said that when she was at Gutierrez’s apartment, which he was then sharing with the attorney general, the attorney general’s scheduler was there in “PJs.” But Stankoski wrote in another document and also testified that the scheduler was wearing sweatpants and either a sweatshirt or T-shirt. When asked about the discrepancy, she told investigators: “I do consider sweatshirt and sweatpants as pajamas.”
That explanation was patently absurd and dishonest. The scheduler had arrived at the apartment, after Stankoski did, wearing a sweatshirt and sweatpants and carrying a laptop computer, which she worked on while there. Stankoski could see that the attire was obviously street clothes.
The investigators’ interviews with her coworkers indicate other possible lies by Stankoski. She told investigators that before she left the office to go drinking with Gutierrez on September 10, a telecommunications assistant warned her to be careful going out with Gutierrez. But he had no recollection of that and told the investigators “it’s none of my business, you know. They can do what they want. I don’t care.”
According to investigators, Stankoski claimed that her section’s deputy director told her he knew she had done nothing wrong and had been sexually harassed from day one at the office. When they asked him about those alleged statements, though, he responded, “I don’t remember that.”
The attorney general’s EEO officer testified that both Stankoski and Stout misquoted her in a newspaper article about the complaints. She indicated they falsely claimed she had told them the attorney general’s office would do anything to push the matter under the rug and keep it from becoming public.
Furthermore, a telecommunications assistant said Stankoski “can be mean” in the office. He gave an example of when she “snapped over nothing,” “went bonkers,” and was very rude. He said she was so mean on that occasion that he almost complained to the human resources section. He stated, “I thought that she crossed the line tenfold with some of the comments that she made,” including cussing at him when he had simply tried to assist her. He also said that even though he had been “100 percent nice” on that occasion, he ended up being “a hundred percent the victim” of her meanness.
He wouldn’t be the only one. The character traits of being mean and repeatedly lying could be a fertile source of false sexual-harassment allegations. That’s another reason Stankoski’s word can’t be trusted any more than her friend Stout’s can.
At one point during the internal investigation, when the chief operating officer said she had been opposed to taking punitive action against Gutierrez before his side of the story had been heard, one of the investigating attorneys lectured her: “Two sides of the story is not required when you have sexual allegations.”
He and his partner seemed to write their report in accordance with that philosophy. The report highlights the allegations of the two women. But it contains nothing about their history of repeatedly lying. Nor does it mention their tendency to initiate and engage in certain sexually oriented communication with coworkers.
Moreover, the report omits statements of coworkers whose testimony was opposed to the complaints. For instance, the report leaves out the statements of the female coworker who called the women “partyers” and their complaints “bogus.” It also omits the statements of another female coworker who said she questioned the motive of the two women. That person suggested that Stout and Stankoski may have been disgruntled employees with an ax to grind.
The report also omits the statements of the coworkers who testified that during the period of the alleged harassment, Gutierrez and the two women appeared to be close friends who frequently joked together.
Although the report lists some of the women’s acts that were inconsistent with the allegations, it downplays those acts by including them, in a brief one-paragraph section, as basically an aside and a curiosity. The report provides no explanation of how the acts could be consistent with the women being in a sexually hostile environment. That’s probably because there is none.
The Ohio media were just as bad, if not worse. The women’s lurid and prurient charges were trumpeted across the state, while evidence opposing their claims was minimized or, more often, not reported at all. One female reporter explained this behavior by saying that if the other side of the story were presented, the media might be accused of “blaming the victims.”
A male reporter apparently felt the same way. His articles were sympathetic to the women’s complaints, but he stated in private that their case “would fall apart in court.” From reading his articles, no one would have suspected his true feelings.
The one-sided investigative report and media coverage made the attorney general’s office look much worse than it should have. And the women looked much better than they were. As a result, the spineless Democratic governor panicked. On a Sunday two days after the report was issued, he and other state Democratic officials were already working frantically to pressure the attorney general to leave office.
By moving so quickly, they couldn’t have closely examined the evidence regarding the women’s allegations or thoroughly researched the legal requirements for impeachment. They were acting for purely political reasons to stanch the flow of bad publicity stemming from the one-sided report.
In pursuing that political goal, they weren’t going to let the facts, the law, the truth, or the rights of innocent parties get in their way. They denied the attorney general and others the presumption of innocence that every American is entitled to. And instead of following a valid legal process, they decided to use physical coercion and trumped-up impeachment articles to railroad a democratically elected statewide official from office.
Their demagoguery and strong-arm tactics succeeded in compelling the attorney general to resign. Besides the harm caused to him, his family, and the citizens he was representing, the lives and careers of many who worked under him were devastated. Even though most of those employees had nothing to do with the complaints, and some had gone out of their way to be nice to the two women, they ended up losing their jobs and were stained by the association of working in an office that supposedly allowed sexual harassment.
For a while, the special counsel hired by the state to defend against the women’s complaints were permitted to treat the matter as a legal rather than a political issue. According to a newspaper article published several months after the attorney general’s resignation, those lawyers apparently took a position contrary to the conclusions of the internal report. They “reportedly used copies of text messages to support their allegations that Stankoski and Stout were willing participants in some of the sexually charged activities” in the office.
Politics took over again a few months later, however. After being in office less than two weeks, Attorney General Richard Cordray, a Democrat who had won a special election to obtain the office, settled with the women by awarding them each $247,500 of taxpayers’ dollars. Cordray then quickly sent the women checks before the state Controlling Board could do its job of determining whether that expenditure of public funds should be made. As the state treasurer in May 2008, Cordray had been instrumental in helping force Dann from the attorney general’s office, which Cordray had long coveted.
Cordray and other Democratic state officials knew that if the truth about the complaints had come out at a trial, they would have looked like fools for jumping to unwarranted conclusions and using false sexual-harassment complaints to force the people’s elected attorney general from office and cause enormous harm to so many. Cordray also would have been exposed as a base political opportunist. To prevent those outcomes, state Democratic officials made sure the other side of the story was buried yet again, this time by settling with the women and preventing the Controlling Board from closely examining the matter.
Further, by awarding such a large amount, the officials tried to make the public think that there must have been serious sexual harassment committed and that the officials had been right all along to force Dann from office. Cordray even publicly apologized to and complimented the two lying scofflaws. All this was adding insult to the injuries already suffered by former workers in the attorney general’s office.
The upshot was that the complainants walked away with a huge sum of money they didn’t deserve, with some people praising them as heroes for coming forward with their stories. They left in their wake many innocent persons whose lives had been severely damaged by the women’s dishonest, selfish, heartless, and immature behavior.
And Stout learned that false sexual-harassment complaints can yield vastly more ill-gotten gains than she ever could have obtained from stealing merchandise from stores.
The failure to examine all sides of a story in regard to sexual-harassment complaints can cause tremendous injustice and harm. This is because some of the complaints are false and filed for ulterior motives.
In his 1997 book The End of Sanity: Social and Cultural Madness in America, Martin L. Gross writes that a sexual-harassment complaint “can provide an outlet and revenge for the frustrated, the denied, the excessively prudish. Or the motive can be a compulsive interest in large dollar court judgments, a new American payoff that rivals the lottery. And, we should not omit the thousands of willing trial lawyers salivating over the prospect of contingency fees in the millions.”
Gross also says a false sexual-harassment complaint can be “the claim of a rejected suitor, a disappointed employee, or result from the pain of an angry quarrel.” The case of the two women in the attorney general’s office could be Exhibit A supporting that position.
As is true of persons who make complaints on other subjects, sexual-harassment complainants can be liars having ulterior motives such as a money, revenge, or malice. And they can be willing to destroy innocent people to attain their goals.
Distinguishing the true from the false victims requires examining all the evidence, not just the charges that anyone could make up.
The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects freedom of speech based on the philosophy that if all sides of an issue are heard, the truth is likely to emerge. For similar reasons, the Constitution and justice system contain protections to ensure that all relevant evidence is considered in deciding legal issues.
If journalists and lawyers take the position that only one side of the story should be heard in regard to sexual-harassment allegations, they are violating the most fundamental principles of fairness and integrity in their professions. And why? Because they’re afraid of the screams of a small minority of irrational extremists who don’t want anyone to accept the fact that some sexual-harassment allegations are false.
To cave to the desires of those people is illogical and cowardly. And it’s a prescription for the triumph of evil and injustice.
Joseph C. Sommer
December 12, 2009
Recent Ohio Articles
Photos are more evidence that Attorney General woman's sexual harassment complaint was bogus
November 15, 2010
Joseph C. Sommer
No Child Left Behind scam: Purchase orders bypass Columbus School Board approval to funnel millions of federal dollars to questionable vendors
November 9, 2010
B. Kennedy Kent and James A. Whitaker - Parent Advocates for Students in School
Closed Council meetings = Better informed public: Absurd “less is more” rationale for Issue 12 from the Columbus Dispatch
September 25, 2010
Ohioans Fight to Reform Factory Farms
September 16, 2010
State officials used a flawed investigation report to force Attorney General Marc Dann from office
July 9, 2010
Joseph C. Sommer
Suburban Ohio man resists foreclosure with direct action
May 5, 2010
Toledo Foreclosure Defense League
The return of Ken Blackwell: Mad Hatter back with the Tea Party in Ohio
May 3, 2010
Activist jailed at Sodexo rally
April 29, 2010
Hypocrisy in the Dispatch's criticism of Eric Brown's appointment as Chief Justice
April 17, 2010
Progressive blunt "Tea-Baggers" attack on Rep. Kilroy!
March 17, 2010
Worthington school officials feel the heat: some community members oppose the teaching of global warming science
March 13, 2010
Tom Over and Eugene Beer
The American Middle Class is being eroded by corporate greed
March 4, 2010
Jason Perlman, Communications Director, Ohio AFL-CIO
Ohio jobs march hits Wall Street greed
February 25, 2010
Columbus rally demands health care now!
February 21, 2010
Ohio machinists fight to protect their pensions
February 16, 2010
All Sides of the Story Needed in Judging Sexual-Harassment Complaints
January 5, 2010
Read Ohio Articles by Year:
2013 2012 2011 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006 2005 2004 2003 2002 2001 2000