The Unwanted Touch

For at least two women, though, the help may have arrived too late.

Reina Gomez readily admits her naivete. Unmarried at 39, still living with her wheelchair-bound mother, she concedes that the attention she has devoted to her schooling, her family, and her career may have left her unprepared for the hazards of the work world. "My friends criticize me for concentrating on my work and my mother," she says now. "They say I'm very innocent." A Dade County employee since November 1973, she spent the past three years as a housing site manager for Dade County HUD, a problem-plagued department where gossip and rumors were epidemic.

Many of the rumors Gomez heard concerned her boss, Hector Gutierrez, an upper-level HUD administrator. "People were always talking about Hector, how he liked to be behind women," says Gomez. "I would joke about it with him sometime, tell him, `I hear about you, but you better do none of that to me.' He would say, `Oh no, Reina, you're my friend. I would never do that.'"

But late last year, Gomez contends, Gutierrez began to phone her at night, even after the two had spoken extensively at work. "My mother say, `Why that man call you in the night? He must be in love.' And I told her, `Oh, God, no, that's my boss-boss. We're just talking business.' She told me I better do something, that he was after me. `No one calls at twelve midnight,' she said. But he was my boss. I didn't know. If I don't answer, I thought, maybe he'll fire me." At the same time, Gomez says, Gutierrez's behavior at work grew increasingly aggressive. He grabbed her, she says, tried to kiss her, made unwelcome advances and suggestive comments. "Some nights I would stay late at the site, and Hector would come by. `Queenie,' he would say - that was my nickname, reina, Queenie - `come to kill some time, let's get drinks, give me a kiss.' He told me that if I go out with him I have a promotion."

When she felt the situation eroding both her office productivity and her emotional well-being, Gomez mentioned it to Art Velasquez, a friend and co-worker employed by HUD since 1971. A letter Velasquez addressed months afterward to Affirmative Action officials recalls the meeting: "Sometime in March, 1990, Ms. Gomez complained to me about Mr. Gutierrez calling her home at all hours of the night even though he had talked to her either over the telephone or at her office during work hours. Then, one day, sometime in April, 1990, she came into my office extremely upset stating that Mr. Gutierrez had propositioned her, asking her to go out with him and to see him in her office after working hours."

"When I first opened my mouth about all of this," Gomez says, "I went to Velasquez and cried. It was a big dog, pit bull, on my back." She felt frightened, she says, embattled, and alone. After a May 1990 demotion she claims was connected to the harassment, Gomez took a year's leave of absence on doctor's orders.

Rosalind De Pardee, 41, knows Reina Gomez only professionally. Gomez - heavyset, Cuban, and voluble - has little in common with the smaller, more guarded, New York-born De Pardee. But like Reina Gomez, Rosalind De Pardee says she faced problems at the hands of a male colleague when she came to work for Dade County HUD. Hired as a tenant selection supervisor in January 1986, De Pardee, then a single parent with a teen-age daughter, immediately fell victim to behavior she considered harassment. Just after her job interview, a member of the hiring panel approached her with congratulations. "We shook hands," she says, "and he fingered my palm, tickling, you know. I didn't know what that was, but it felt strange. You don't expect that when you first meet someone."

In the weeks following the interview, De Pardee participated in a required department orientation overseen by the same administrator who had given her the questionable handshake. In those first days of work, she inked notes in the margins of an orientation program, notes that detailed the behavior of her new associate. Some are cryptic (the "X Neck" for example, of Tuesday, February 18, which De Pardee says indicates that he tried to kiss her neck), while others ("In his off I want you") need no elaboration.

De Pardee, who has worked in both county government and private industry, acknowledges she had encountered suggestive workplace behavior before, but never so overtly. "Once he did the first stuff, with the hand business, it felt wrong immediately. And then he kept at it and at it, and it became really clear what this guy was doing. It was the first time that I felt that my job was based on something like this," she says. "There was always joking at the other places I worked, and you can handle things, but I never felt threatened before. It was like, what do I have to do to keep my job, go to bed with this guy or what?" She recorded the incidents, she says, to help her cope with the frustration and discomfort. During the next month, in coded entries in her "Week-at-a-Glance" work diary, De Pardee noted six separate episodes - forced kisses, explicit gestures, intrusive hands. One entry, dated March 3, reads simply, "2 Rsky 2 Rec."

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