May 28, 1995 in Nation/World

State Nepotism Laws Don’t Cover Live-In Lovers Complaints Arose After Official’s Girlfriend Won Promotion

By The Spokesman-Review
 

If they were married, it’d be illegal.

But when the live-in girlfriend of state Liquor Dispensary Assistant Superintendent Jim Baugh was transferred into the central office for a higher-paying job, state nepotism laws didn’t apply.

Legislation proposed this past session to extend nepotism laws to cover live-in lovers didn’t make it into law. A new version of the legislation is in the works.

“It’s a loophole in our nepotism laws, whereas if you’re not married, you could have a relationship with a subordinate,” said state Sen. Hal Bunderson, R-Meridian, a retired CPA who’s headed a task force looking into problems in the liquor dispensary.

Bunderson fears such situations expose the state to possible sex-discrimination lawsuits. Other employees might charge that their own advancement is hurt by favoritism toward an employee who has a relationship with their supervisor. He’s working with the Attorney General’s office to try to close the loophole.

Dean Summers, outgoing dispensary superintendent, defended his hiring practices and said workers’ romantic involvements are none of the state’s business.

An extensive management audit of the state agency found a number of hires that complied with the letter of state rules, but still appear slanted toward a single candidate.

Bette Olin’s promotion was the most controversial. Nineteen employees filed a grievance over it.

Olin was assigned from her previous post as a liquor store manager to “special projects” in the central office Nov. 5, 1991. On the same date, her job was reclassified to that of a higher-level store manager, which carries a higher salary and usually indicates that store has sales greater than $750,000 per year.

In December 1992, a job description for a “senior administrative assistant” in the central office was released. Olin was named to that post March 13, 1993, and got a $4,000 a year raise to about $36,000 per year.

On June 19, 1993, two months after the grievance was filed, Olin went on paid leave, then went back to managing a liquor store. Her store now meets the higher sales figure; she’s at the top of the salary scale for her job.

Olin, who has worked for the dispensary for 20 years, was stung by the complaint. She said she reported directly to Summers, and not to Baugh, her boyfriend.

“But of course there is contact,” she said. “When you’re in that position, there’s going to be contact.”

Olin and four others took a Civil Service test before she was named senior administrative assistant. Her score was among the lowest, but all five passed the test.

“I’m sure some people felt it was due to the fact I was dating the assistant (superintendent) and not to my qualifications,” Olin said. But, she maintained, “I was a manager before I even started dating this gentleman. I had gotten superior ratings. Every one of my job evaluations had been superior, with the exception of the very last one, which took place after the grievance. That was under six different supervisors.”

Olin doesn’t think state nepotism laws should be changed to include romantic involvements. “That’s an invasion of your private life,” she said. “Some people work very well together.”

Summers agreed. “She’s a terribly competent lady,” he said. “I don’t care who sleeps with anybody. I’m trying to run a business.”


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