Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray Mishandled Settlement of Bogus Sexual-Harassment Complaint

In a campaign ad in 2010, Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray claimed he would “always work to protect . . . the people of Ohio.” But his record was inconsistent with his words.

Shortly after winning a special election in 2008 to serve the remainder of the term that Marc Dann had been elected to, Cordray violated the public trust when he awarded Vanessa Stout $247,500 to settle her sexual-harassment complaint against Dann’s former general services director, Anthony Gutierrez.

Based on a seven-month investigation that ended a few weeks before Cordray became attorney general, the Ohio inspector general’s findings did not support such a settlement. His report said 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.”

Stout’s credibility was also undermined by what the report called “her extensive criminal history.” Before being hired at the attorney general’s office, Stout had been convicted of retail theft three times, assault, harassment, and driving under the influence. And a warrant had been issued because of her failure to appear to face 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.

Moreover, Stout made false statements on her employment application and during her interview for employment at the attorney general’s office. On the application, she intentionally omitted her three theft convictions and falsely asserted she had graduated from high school when in fact she had only completed the eleventh grade and had a GED. During the interview, she said she was proficient at using computer programs such as Word, PowerPoint, and Excel when she actually was not.

Stout never filed a complaint about Gutierrez until she got angry at him for transferring her out of his section. According to the office’s human resources director who first interviewed her about the complaint, Stout wanted to go back to her old job in Gutierrez’s section even with him still there, and said, “I liked it there. . . . I enjoyed my job. . . . I liked the people over there.” True victims of sexual harassment do not describe their work environment that way.

Several of Stout’s coworkers testified that during the period of the alleged harassment, she spent a lot of time socializing and having lunch with Gutierrez in his office, took smoke breaks with him, flirted with him, played pranks on him, helped plan and organize a birthday party for him, acted in a juvenile manner in his presence in the office, and sent racy text messages in the office as jokes.

Investigators also received testimony that Stout, who lived across the street from Gutierrez, went out for drinks with him, repeatedly visited his apartment to drink and socialize, smoked cigarettes and talked for hours with him outside the apartment, threw “the F bomb” in his office in complaining about her treatment by a security guard, met him at a bar to let him buy her a birthday drink, shot pool with him in a bar, told him about her boyfriend becoming jealous of her sex toy and breaking it, and invited him to party, have Bacardi, and be her “bitch” for New Year’s.

No wonder one of Stout’s female coworkers told investigators that Stout was a “partyer” and her complaint was “bogus.”

Additionally, about three months after filing the complaint against Gutierrez, Stout made an unfounded allegation of sexual impropriety against another female coworker who had also been unsupportive of the complaint. Stout admitted to investigators that she made the allegation in front of other coworkers for the purpose of upsetting the woman despite having no firsthand knowledge of it being true.

In view of Stout’s extensive criminal background, her lies told to obtain the state job, her acts that were inconsistent with being a victim of sexual harassment, her coworker’s testimony that the complaint was bogus, her unfounded sexual allegation against a female coworker, and the inspector general’s serious questions about the complaint’s validity, an honest attorney general could not in good conscience hand Stout a quarter of a million dollars of taxpayers’ money.

As the state’s chief attorney, Cordray had an ethical duty to vigorously defend against the claim, which surely would have fallen apart in court. But Cordray not only agreed to give Stout the money, he complimented her in doing so.

Then he paid the amount before the settlement could be reviewed by the State Controlling Board. In quickly causing the transaction to be a done deal, Cordray tried to render the payment moot and thereby prevent the board from carefully analyzing whether it should occur.

Those acts were part of Cordray’s method of hiding from the public the fact that he and a conservative Democratic governor, Ted Strickland, had used false sexual-harassment complaints to drive from office a progressive, populist, and aggressive Democratic attorney general, Marc Dann.

Cordray had long coveted the attorney general’s office, but didn’t have the moxie to run for it against a strong Republican candidate in 2006. Dann did, and won. So Cordray chose to help force Dann from office at the first opportunity, and then seized the office for himself. And he apparently didn’t care how much injustice he caused or how many careers and lives he ruined in the process.

Further, both the state government and the mainstream Ohio media have covered up this treachery and the resulting travesties of justice. They seemingly don’t want the public to know that they foolishly and lazily accepted Stout’s ridiculous allegations as true, instead of doing their jobs of investigating the facts.

By wasting taxpayers’ money and causing outrageous injustice in a high-profile case, and later trying to prevent his dastardly acts from being reviewed by an outside board, Cordray showed he could not be trusted to act properly in the numerous cases his office handled that did not receive publicity.

Ohio’s voters wisely removed him from office in November 2010. They should likewise spurn his professed intentions to run for governor in the future.

[For more information on this subject, please see the articles title “Ohio Officials Wrongfully Drove Attorney General Marc Dann from Office,” “All Sides of the Story Needed in Judging Sexual-Harassment Complaints,” “Ohio Officials Used a Flawed Investigation Report to Force Attorney General Marc Dann from Office,” and “Photos Are More Evidence That Attorney General Woman’s Sexual-Harassment Complaint Was Bogus.”]