I caught my boss masturbating in the office.

Advice on manners and morals.
June 3 2010 6:57 AM

Lawyer Caught Red-Handed

I walked in on my boss pleasuring himself at work. Should I complain?

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Dear Prudie,
I am a young female attorney working in a small law office. Recently, I arrived at the office much earlier than usual. The partner for whom I work was the only other person there. His door was wide open, and when I went by to let him know I was in, I caught him with his pants down, so to speak. He was behind his desk, but I am 95 percent sure of what was going on from the waist down, considering his reaction when I appeared. If I report anything, it would be the word of a young, new attorney versus an experienced and valuable partner. I also cannot imagine even having the conversation with the middle-aged men in my office. For the sake of my career, should I just pretend it did not happen, even though I am totally grossed out and uncomfortable? Unfortunately, he's not even the person who makes the pay decisions, so it is not as though I can leverage this in any lucrative way. What do I do?

—Yuck

Dear Yuck,
If the partner, thinking the office was deserted, decided it was a propitious time to squeeze in a wank, he should instead stick to double-espressos if he needs a morning lift. I assume when you came upon the scene, you beat a hasty retreat. I understand you're grossed out, and rightly so. But let's put this in perspective. It's not as if the partner, hearing you patter around, called out and asked you to take a look at his briefs. As out of line as his behavior was, he was surely as shocked and mortified as you were. If you pursue this with the other partners, given the absence of evidence of his transgression, he would have a substantial incentive to say you are deluded. If you were grilled about what you saw, your 95 percent certainty might wilt to the level of reasonable doubt. I'll take as a joke your musing that this presents a blackmail opportunity for you—an attitude that may work at the Glenn Close law firm in Damages but probably won't go over at yours. So, since there was some ambiguity to the encounter, your best course is to act as if nothing happened and put it out of your mind. However, as Eve, Pandora, and Prometheus all discovered, sometimes knowledge results in unpleasant consequences. So, in case this partner decides to take retribution against you, immediately write up everything that happened and put it in a memo to file on your home and office computers—and keep a hard copy. That way, you'll have your own record of why you may have suddenly fallen out of favor.

—Prudie

Dear Prudence,
Several months ago, following a fight about child support, my ex told our 15-year-old son inappropriate and erroneous details about our relationship. My ex described sexually explicit situations and claimed that I tried to place our son for adoption because I was unsure about his paternity. I found out only because I snooped and looked at some things my son wrote on his computer after he returned from his dad's home and wouldn't talk to me. My son wrote that I was just a dumb slut his dad had to marry when I got knocked up. (We found out I was pregnant shortly after we married.) I am furious but worry that I can't refute the lies because my son will know I snooped. I can't figure out what is worse. Please help!

—Mad

Dear Mad,
What a peach of an ex you have; at least I don't have to wonder why this marriage didn't work out. You're in a tough situation, and I think the best course is for you to be honest about what you did. Start by saying you did something wrong for which you hope your son will forgive you. Explain you felt driven to snoop because of how damaged your relationship with him seemed after he returned from his father's, and there's nothing in the world more important to you than the relationship you two have. Ask him to put aside the issue of privacy for now, and say you're sorry that because of a fight between you and his father, in anger his father struck out at you and unfortunately told your son not only hurtful but untrue things. Then, if he'll listen, explain the truth in an unemotional, factual, low-key way: There was never any doubt about his paternity, you never considered adoption, and you didn't find out you were pregnant until after you and his father married. Tell him that despite the pain of the divorce—and you know he's suffered more than anyone—finding out you were pregnant and having him was the best thing that ever happened to you. Given how destructive your ex is, you might want to get some counseling assistance for you and your son to help both of you keep your avenues of communication open, despite whatever awful disinformation campaign your ex may wage.