Wednesday, May 07, 2008


I feel myself sliding into violated kitten territory.

And perhaps I'm biased. When my now-stepmother's boss left his wife for her 20 some odd years ago, it caused a lot of damage to a lot of people. But of all the numerous things that were simply wrong about that situation, I've seen nothing in the past twenty years to indicate that harassment or a hostile work environment were among them.

So, if I pretend that Connie Schultz's column today is in response to my post yesterday (I know it's not - but to paraphrase the great and highly apropos movie The Squid and the Whale, the fact that it wasn't written as a response to my post is... kind of a technicality), then I feel I need to make some clarifications:

  1. Employer-Employee sex is generally a bad idea.
  2. I believe it falls into a category of situations that should be avoided whenever possible, and responsibly managed when it inevitably occurs anyway.
  3. The marital status of the employees involved is usually irrelevant to the arguments made for 1 & 2.
  4. Cheating on your spouse is a crappy thing to do. Regardless of whom employs you, your spouse, or your other.

This happens to basically make up the framework of Dann's argument as well, which Schultz counters:

Jessica Utovich is virtually half Dann's age, has a smidgeon of his higher education, earned about a third of his income and was employed at his mercy.

She's right. The particulars of this affair are particularly damning. I'm not the world's greatest feminist, and my comfort with myself as a white male doesn't really enhance my street cred, but I am a feminist. And this relationship smells strongly of abuse of power differential.

On the other hand, I'm not about to go out proposing rules and laws that imply I can decide better than a 28-year old woman who she is capable of choosing to be romantically involved with.

So, I'll essentially grant Schultz almost every piece and part of her premise: Dann is morally culpable for his affair, and that moral culpability extends to some (unspecified) degree of victimization of his mistress. But I can't buy her argument:

Marc Dann insists that, while others' careers crumble around him, his should remain intact. He wants us to believe that he's still the biggest, baddest law enforcer in the land and that this is what really matters.

In other words, the whole sex thing was overblown, and women are discardable.

...all those women toiling away in less public, less scrutinized offices but subjected to similar hostile work environments. If the attorney general can get away with it, what is to happen to them?

If I were Marc Dann, I would be thrilled with this piece by Schultz. By accepting the frame that he is being punished for workplace infidelity, and that the degree of his guilt or innocence depends on the degree to which his scheduler was willing and capable of deciding to be involved, Schultz has placed the argument on (by far) the best terrain possible for Dann. Perhaps Schultz means to say that even if Dann wasn't more concerned with helping his friends than creating a top-notch AG's office, even if he didn't look the other way while his friends engaged in much more blatant victimization of their subordinates, even if he didn't place his own personal interests above those of his employees, even if he did not act in such a way as to slow the legal process rather than facilitate it, even if he operated in the spirit of public openness that he championed in others rather than working to subvert the public's access to his office's public documents, even if he never actually did any of these things, having an affair with a younger staffer is reason enough, in and of itself, for his career to be over.

If so, she should make that clearer. And, FWIW, if she were to make that clarification, I'd enthusiastically concede that sanctions were necessary, and assistance for his scheduler warranted, but impeachment? I'd have to disagree. Which is why I'm not happy seeing the debate played out on Marc and Connie's playing field.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great post!

The one thing I'd differ with you on is in your last paragraph where you indicate that Schultz is identifying the affair as a basis for impeachment, and you disagree. She doesn't actually bring up impeachment in the column She only talks about Dann's career being over -- I think she may be referring just to him being pressured to resign, not to impeachment.

Nevertheless, I agree with you (here and in your earlier post) that impeaching him just for the affair is a poor idea, even though the affair is reprehensible and Schultz makes good points about the power imbalance and the unfairness to Utovich. However, in fact there appears to be a lot more malfeasance here than just the affair, or even the affair and covering up the affair.

- Jeff