A former executive secretary to Baltimore County Executive Roger B. Hayden has accused him of sexually harassing her in 1992 and said that he "emotionally battered" her for nearly five months after she rejected his advances.
Niculina V. "Nicki" Robinson, 42, of Joppatowne, said the harassment culminated in Mr. Hayden's telling her that he was firing her husband, Thomas, from his job as county fleet administrator during last February's sweeping layoffs of county employees.
She went on sick leave immediately after the firing and resigned from her post in August.
Mrs. Robinson, who filed a complaint in September with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said the problems began with an incident in Mr. Hayden's office in September 1992.
Reports of Mrs. Robinson's complaint have been circulating for months, and Mr. Hayden issued a statement denying the charges in anticipation of her announcement today. He refused to answer specific questions about the alleged incident.
"I am aware of the charges which Mrs. Robinson has made, and they are totally untrue," Mr. Hayden said in his statement.
The statement said that Mrs. Robinson and her husband "demanded a large sum of money, threatening to file EEOC charges if they were not paid. I refused to pay them anything."
He said the charges stem from Mr. Robinson's firing and are "only the latest of a number of venues that people have used to get back at the county" since the Feb. 11, 1993, layoffs.
He also accused the Robinsons of conspiring with political opponents he did not identify to discredit him in an election year, a charge Mrs. Robinson denied.
If her intention had been to hurt the county executive politically, she said, she would have waited until nearer the November election.
Mrs. Robinson said she waited until now to make her case public because "I wanted to get all my facts in order. It took me a while to get strong enough to come out with this now."
Although there were no witnesses to the incident Mrs. Robinson described, some staff members said they had noticed a definite change in Mr. Hayden's behavior toward Mrs. Robinson.
Carol L. Hirschburg, another former staff member who lost her job in the February layoffs, said she noticed a "marked difference" in Mr. Hayden's treatment of Mrs. Robinson starting about six weeks before Christmas 1992.
"I thought she had been a very loyal employee to him," Ms. Hirschburg said. But she said she noticed that when Ms. Robinson entered the executive's office to deliver phone messages during meetings, "he was very, very curt with her and she was terribly nervous or upset. She seemed to be scared to death of him."
Mrs. Robinson and her husband are friends of former County Executive Dennis F. Rasmussen and began working for the county during his administration.
jTC Both stayed on after Mr. Hayden, a Republican, ousted the Democratic incumbent in a 1990 election upset.
Joined staff in 1991
Mrs. Robinson started as a secretary in the Office of Substance Abuse in 1988. She joined the executive staff in January 1991 and the following June became secretary to Judith E. Scheper, a former school principal who was Mr. Hayden's top aide until she returned to the school system in March 1992.
There are two positions in the executive's office with the title of executive secretary. The position Mrs. Robinson eventually assumed in July 1991 was that of personal secretary to the
executive. The position is appointive and not part of the county's merit system.
Before the alleged incident, Mrs. Robinson said, her relationship with Mr. Hayden was a "cordial, professional" one.
She said that Mr. Hayden entrusted her with his personal finances and that she acted as a liaison between Mr. Hayden and the private attorney Mr. Hayden had retained to handle his divorce.
On several occasions, she said, she lent Mr. Hayden money, including one loan of $500 to pay for reappraising his house during his divorce negotiations. He promptly repaid the money, she said.
Mrs. Robinson refused to describe the alleged sexual advance in detail, other than to say that it was physical in nature and occurred in Mr. Hayden's office at the end of a workday after she had refused two invitations to dinner.
Revealing the details of the incident would jeopardize the EEOC complaint, she said.
During the incident, she said, she looked at him and thought to herself, "What do you think you are doing?"
After rejecting his advances, she said, she sat stunned at her desk for 30 minutes, then began to tell herself that everything would return to normal.
"I went in and did my job," she said.
Mrs. Robinson said the county executive's behavior toward her deteriorated, that he routinely ignored her or ridiculed her in front of other employees.
Meanwhile, she said, he gradually removed her responsibilities until she was left with virtually nothing to do but sort his mail and take telephone messages.
She said he rebuffed attempts to speak to him about th problem and subjected her to what she called "extreme psychological abuse, including making disparaging remarks about her appearance to other people in her presence."
She said, for example, that he once asked her whether she could "get my broad body through the door" of her office to perform a task. She said he used a nasty tone in addressing her and that she thought he was trying to force her to quit.
"It was like I was dead," she said. "All I wanted it to do was to get better. I did everything in my power to protect that man," she said, noting that Mr. Hayden was under "severe personal and financial stress" at the time.
Ms. Hirschburg, a longtime GOP activist who was Mr. Hayden's press officer and staff aide until the layoffs, said that by Christmas 1992, she noticed that Mrs. Robinson "was frequently in tears."
She said other staff members told her it was because of something that had happened between the executive and his secretary, but no one knew what.
In January 1993, Mrs. Robinson said, it appeared that things might improve after Mr. Hayden called her into his office and said, " 'I know I've been treating you poorly, but this is a new year and we have a lot of work to do.' "
She said she thanked him as he walked away, but that his behavior toward her did not change.
Meanwhile, she said, she began having physical problems related to the stress and had no one in whom to confide. "I couldn't sleep or eat. My chest hurt all the time," she said in an interview last week.
Because she was Mr. Hayden's confidential secretary, she said, she and her husband had an understanding that she would not discuss the workings of the executive's office.
She said she decided to resist what she felt was an effort to force her out of her job because her family's livelihood depended on the county -- a situation that also kept her from filing a complaint immediately after the incident, she said.
The Robinsons did, however, briefly consult a Baltimore attorney, Marcy M. Hallock, who confirmed that they came to her before the February layoffs to find out what they could do about "alleged sexual harassment" of Mrs. Robinson at work.
'The final blow'
On Feb. 11, 1993, Mrs. Robinson said, Mr. Hayden told her " 'I'm only telling you this out of professional courtesy, that as we speak your husband is losing his job.' "
More than 566 county positions were eliminated in the layoffs, and 290 workers lost their jobs.
"After the emotional battering, that was the final blow," Mrs. Robinson said.
She filed her EEOC complaint in September 1993 and said she decided to air her charges now "because the public should know of Mr. Hayden's behavior."
"I can only hope that by speaking publicly about this painful experience, it will cause people to look closer at how a public official can abuse the trust that has been placed in him," she said.
Mrs. Robinson took medical leave after her husband's firing. The next month, she said, she was told she would not be allowed to return to the $34,000-a-year executive office job.
She said she was offered a part-time job in the Police Department at a much lower salary.
In his statement, Mr. Hayden said, "By her own choice, Mrs. Robinson never returned to work and was placed on a leave of absence. As a courtesy to Mrs. Robinson, she was offered the opportunity to transfer to another department, at equal status and pay. She refused and later voluntarily resigned her employment with the county."
Richard N. Holloway, the county personnel director, backed up his boss, saying, "She didn't want to return to the executive office. She wouldn't return."