Nightmare of a nuclear physicist Featured

10:06am EDT July 22, 2002

As an academic nuclear physicist-turned-entrepreneur, Ashok Dhar has faced his share of, shall we say, technical challenges over the years. But none have ever proved as difficult-and costly-as when he decided to hire his first secretary.

After placing an ad for the position, an experienced secretary reportedly came to his office for an interview and proceeded to tell Dhar, president of Computer Science & Technology Inc. in Monroeville, how she had been downsized out of a job, that she needed to make at least $25,000 a year to pay her mortgage, and, by the way, she was pregnant.

When Dhar decided to hire another secretarial candidate for significantly less money, he one day received a rather large package in the mail. In it was a long letter from a lawyer representing the pregnant woman claiming discrimination and demanding a $25,000 settlement. Dhar, who admits to a naivete in such matters, says he was stunned.

"It was terrible," he says, looking back. "It was a disaster. I didn't think it would be an issue." But it was.

Dhar says the woman finally dropped the claim, but by the time he was finished addressing the issue, he had doled out roughly $5,000 for his own lawyer to handle the situation.

The lessons he says he learned-the hard way-from the situation:

  • Don't interview candidates alone.

  • Document everything.

  • Don't ask personal questions.

Dhar says of his hiring experience: "It scares the hell out of you."