Like Letterman, office romances court trouble
As the public fallout from David Letterman’s admission that he slept with female staffers continued Monday, the case has shined a light on the explosive subject of liaisons between bosses and their employees.
“The problem is abuse of power — clear, direct, subtle and the whole range in between,” Judith Sills, a corporate consultant, said of such couplings. “When your boss approaches you — just approaches you — with sexual interest there are consequences to saying no. Nobody says, ‘You didn’t want me? No hard feelings.’”
Though no woman has come forward to say Letterman, 62, the popular late-night host, coerced her or punished her at work, Sills and other experts said such relationships hinge on an imbalance of power and those involved inevitably suffer consequences, both personal and professional.
“They’re always problematic,” psychologist Yael Margolin-Rice said.
Meanwhile, an attorney for the man accused of trying to blackmail Letterman by threatening to reveal details of an affair with a former staffer took to the airwaves yesterday.
"I look forward to cross examining David Letterman because I don't think the full story is before the public," Gerald Shargel, who represents “48 Hours” producer Robert “Joe” Halderman, said on CBS' “Early Show.”
Halderman, who reportedly lived with Stephanie Birkitt, the former Letterman employee at the center of the scandal, is accused of trying to shake down the TV funnyman for $2 million.
When Letterman — who last March married longtime girlfriend Regina Lasko, with whom he has a 5-year-old son — revealed details of the case on the air last week, it set off a media storm, as critics and allies debated his conduct.
Jeff Mathieau, 40, of Brooklyn, said: “Every place I’ve ever worked has had strict policies against it and for good reason. It’s just asking for trouble.”
Helaine Olen, co-author of “Office Mate: The Employee Handbook for Finding – and Managing – Romance on the Job,” said relationships between a subordinate and superior are dangerous.
“Don’t get involved with your boss or subordinate unless you see the entire future in front of you — the house, the car, the children, basically the rest of your lives,” she warned.
Emily Ngo and Anndrew Vacca contributed to this story.