Catherine Townsend: Yes, I slept with the boss. But I still had to fetch his coffee

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Mr Ashbrooke is suing the insurance giant Zurich Global Energy for £378,000 compensation after claiming that Elizabeth Lestan, his flirtatious American boss, pestered him for sex in a taxi after knocking back loads of wine on a night out at a London club.

The 59-year-old, who had been due to marry his fiancée three months later, said he gave the scathing response: "Look Liz, I wouldn't fuck you, even if my job depended on it." One can only imagine the Antarctic atmosphere at the water cooler in their office the next day.

Mr Ashbrooke's description of Ms Lestan, who is in her 40s and single, reminded me of the sexual predator played by Demi Moore in the film Disclosure. He said that she tried to undermine him after he turned her down by interfering with a presentation he gave in Las Vegas. She tried, he alleged, to elicit criticism from clients about reports he had written and invited him to stay with her during a business trip to the States while mentioning that she "frequently wandered around the house naked".

He subsequently resigned, suffering from stress, in December last year. Meanwhile, Zurich accused him of "dizzying greed", claiming that he fabricated the incidents to boost his earnings as he neared retirement.

Whatever the outcome of this harrowing tale of backbiting and bitchiness, the cat fight epitomises all the worst pitfalls of falling for someone at the office. With more single men and women in the workforce than ever before spending a third of their lives with their colleagues - including nights out drinking and the sexual minefield that is the Christmas party - it's no surprise that so many of us are hooking up with people at work.

It's now so common that most employers have realised that banning inter-office romance is utterly pointless. In fact, potential paramours at some firms in the US sign "love contracts" stating that their fraternising is consensual. But in the first flush of love, it's easy to forget the harsh reality of having to see the object of one's affection every day - and that sneaking off to the broom cupboard can quickly degenerate into hurling staplers across the room when relations sour. Anyone who decides to sleep with the boss should also be prepared for the possibility of having to leave his or her job.

I once worked for a fashion company and developed a crush on a senior executive who was more than 20 years my senior. Despite the thrill, there were awkward downsides: I had to make all of the advances, and we had already had several tricky discussions about sexual harassment cases before uncorking the first bottle of champagne back at his flat.

Mr Ashbrooke's and Ms Lestan's war of words proves that even "harmless" office flirtation can lead to disaster. The couple's charged verbal exchanges are mild in comparison to some of the sexually explicit barbs than can be heard daily between men and women on any trading floor in the City.

When it comes to office romance, I've also crashed and burned horribly. I was fresh out of university, working as a lowly intern for a TV company when I fell for one of the producers. We dated for two months, until he decided that he "wasn't ready for a girlfriend". He then went on to have a very public fling with a pneumatic blond PA - and I still had to get him coffee and photocopy his scripts with tears in my eyes. Even though facing the source of my heartbreak on an hourly basis delayed my healing, I don't regret taking the plunge.

For those like me for whom nothing short of the threat of imminent career suicide can stop them from getting horizontal with the hot guy in the marketing department, I say to them, go for it. Just as long as you can endure the bitchy backlash at the water cooler.

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