Public boards must avoid promises of secrecy

A second claim of sexual harassment has been made against a Western Reserve Port Authority official.

Andrea Hoffman was hired in February 2014 as a marketing / business development coordinator. During the two years she worked at the port authority, she received a $10,000 raise from $32,000 to $42,000 and new responsibilities. But then her contract was abruptly terminated when the board eliminated the need for her position by outsourcing marketing work to a contract company.

In the months leading up to her termination, Hoffman had met with an attorney – the same attorney who represented another former port authority employee who made similar harassment allegations – and sent correspondence through her attorney saying she was instructed to “use her sexuality,” rather than her marketing expertise, to “wine and dine” male airline representatives.

Port Authority Director of Aviation Dan Dickten called the allegations “untrue and insulting,” noting that Hoffman “was never – and she knows she was never – directed to conduct any inappropriate activities by me nor anyone else from this office or the board.”

You might recall the concern we expressed in this space when it came to light that the port authority had agreed in July to a confidential settlement with another female employee, Lauren Iaderosa, who said she was the victim of sexual harassment, discrimination, retaliation, wrongful termination, slander and more.

At that time, the port and its insurance company paid Iaderosa $40,000 and promised to keep it all a secret. There was no lawsuit filed alleging harassment, and no complaints were made to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission nor to the Civil Rights Commission. In essence, there is no public record of the claim, evidence or defense.

We cautioned that the promise of secrecy could set a precedent. We asked what is to stop allegations – frivolous or not – from being made by others seeking not to file civil claims into the public record but simply might be hoping for a handsome settlement and promises that no details will ever be shared publicly.

Even Dickten, in an email to Port Authority Chairman Ron Klingle, accused Hoffman of “jumping on the bandwagon.”

The statements made by both former employees, on the surface, are extremely alarming. No lawsuits on behalf of Hoffman or Iaderosa alleging harassment have been filed against the airport, the port authority or Dickten, and no complaints were made in either case to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or Civil Rights Commission.

As of now, we don’t know what really happened in either case, which likely is feeding imaginations and innuendo.

We caution the Port Authority – and all public bodies – that promises of secrecy always should be avoided.