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Bryant Whitten, LLP

Workplace affair costs taxpayers

A long-time affair between a San Luis Obispo county supervisor and his legislative assistant will cost taxpayers thousands. When news of the affair became public, the county administrator announced plans to move the woman to a new county position at the same rate of pay. The $68,870 annual salary will be paid out of discretionary funds. Critics say the woman is not entitled to the new position and the county should not be paying for it.

The woman previously worked in the clerk recorder's office. She left that position six years ago to become a legislative assistant, which is not a civil service position. A former county supervisor says this means the woman has no right to transfer back to a county position. Other county employees who left their positions to become legislative assistants did not receive the same preferential treatment. Local attorneys speculate the county is trying to avoid a sexual harassment claim by the woman.

Under both California and federal law, sexual harassment is a form of unlawful sex discrimination. Sexual harassment includes unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature that creates a hostile working environment. While someone involved in a consensual workplace affair generally would not have a claim for sexual harassment, other employees who are being adversely affected by the office romance may have a claim, especially if there is favoritism toward the employee with whom the supervisor is romantically involved.

A employee who believes the work environment is being negatively impacted by an office romance should discuss the matter with the employer's human resources department as an initial step. If the situation does not improve or becomes worse, an experienced sexual harassment attorney can help the employee pursue a claim for unlawful harassment.

Source: CalCoastNews.com, "Supervisor's zipper costly to county taxpayers," Daniel Blackburn and Karen Velie, Nov. 29, 2012

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