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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: Do you think it's inappropriate to ask an 18-year-old, part-time female employee to go to lunch with two other men? I'm 36, happily married and have a son. The other men are also happily married. One of them has two kids. It was an innocent lunch at a fast-food joint.

My female manager had a problem with it. She told all three of us never to ask her again. The girl is still in high school and works in the afternoons after class. She has worked with us for six months. She happened to work the full day when we asked her to come with us. There were no other female employees included.

I feel we did nothing wrong, but I'd like your opinion. -- WONDERING IN MOUNT LAUREL, N.J.

DEAR WONDERING: From my perspective, it was thoughtful of you to ask the young lady to lunch. However, I'm not an expert in labor law, so I consulted a prominent Los Angeles labor lawyer, Ann Kane Smith. Here's what she had to say:

"That situation is a catch-22 for both men and women. Men complain they are wrongfully accused of sexual harassment in the workplace -- and women complain they are left out of the 'old boys' network.'

"I don't have all of the facts, but the female supervisor may be maternal and overreacting. The situation will resolve itself when the girl graduates from high school and either goes off to college or joins the work force full time.

"There is nothing wrong with colleagues or co-workers of any age and either sex having lunch together, as long as everyone behaves appropriately."

DEAR ABBY: My husband and I recently celebrated our 60th wedding anniversary by hosting a catered dinner for about 100 friends. We arranged music and all that goes with such a grand occasion.

One couple arrived carrying a birthday cake and candles because the husband wanted everyone to know it was his wife's birthday. Abby, they never once spoke to us or acknowledged our occasion. They ignored us during the entire party, but the husband kept whispering to the caterer.

While we were waiting for dessert to be served, he lit the candles on the birthday cake and began serving it to guests seated nearby. Then I saw him again talking to the caterer. He said, "If you won't, then I will!" With that, he went to the musicians, stopped the music, and asked everyone to sing "Happy Birthday" to his wife.

At the end of the evening, the husband came over with a slice of leftover cake thrown on a plate and said, "Whoever wants to eat it can." With that, they left.

I was told the wife had a gift for us and would bring it to our home the next day. It's been six months, and we still haven't seen or heard from them.

Many of our guests felt they were rude. We feel we were badly treated. What do you think? -- PUZZLED IN FLORIDA

DEAR PUZZLED: I, too, think you were used. By bringing a birthday cake to your celebration and distracting attention from you and your husband without permission, in a sense they hijacked your party. It took a lot of gall. I wouldn't blame you if you crossed them off your guest list permanently.

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