The Carmel Clay Schools board of trustees put Supt. Nicholas Wahl and Human Resources Director Corinne Middleton on administrative leave Oct. 10, in part to examine the relationship between the two, CCS officials have confirmed.
The district has been scarce in providing additional details, but many have speculated that the two are involved in a romantic relationship, as both filed for divorce earlier this year.
State law doesn’t prohibit such a relationship, and neither does CCS policy, although it does state that if a married or cohabiting employee directly reports to his or her significant other, one will be transferred.
That doesn’t appear to be the case here, so some may wonder what’s the big deal?
Plenty, according to Ryan Outlaw, an assistant professor in the IU Kelley School of Business.
He said that in almost every workplace, employees are not allowed to be romantically involved with someone to whom they directly report. He described this type of situation as a “power imbalance.”
“There’s always the potential to have a conflict of interest, so whether or not there’s actually anything unethical occurring, there’s still the potential for that to occur,” Outlaw said. “The perception it may occur is what really bothers a lot of people.”
If it were to happen in a workplace funded by taxpayer dollars – such as a public school district – it could be even more worrisome, he said.
“Potential conflicts of interest and ethical violations just matter more, because at the end of the month when I look at (my) paycheck and see what’s going out in taxes, I want to make sure that’s being put to good use,” Outlaw said.
Outlaw studies fairness in the workplace, and he said romantic relationships can also lead to employees wondering if their superiors are making biased decisions, leaving some to feel vulnerable. He said that some organizations have implemented “love contracts,” a document officially stating to an organization that two employees are together.
“Those are for employees who are not in a position where one is in a position of power over another. Things get exponentially more complicated when there’s a power imbalance,” he said. “I’d be shocked if any organization was OK with a hierarchy of people in position of power over one another having a romantic relationship.”
A district official said the administrative review process is expected to wrap up in the next couple of weeks, but it’s not known if the results will be released to the public.