The Unwanted Touch

Part 2

De Pardee made an appointment with Eugene Smith, assistant director for housing management, to complain about the situation. While she was waiting, she says, the administrator pushed past her and entered Smith's office. "He literally closed the door in front of my face and locked it behind him," De Pardee recalls. Distraught, she sought refuge in the office of Mary Keller, another HUD administrative officer. Although Keller urged her to speak with Smith, De Pardee says she never broached the matter with him; she assumed the administrator had already predisposed Smith against her. "It's a male work world," she says, "and men don't care about what happens to women unless it directly affects them. Maybe it's not all men, but sometimes I wonder."

Despite the sexual pressure exerted by the male administrator, De Pardee says, what caused her the greatest distress was the sense of isolation. "I was very private. As far as I knew, I was dealing with it all by myself. I didn't know what was going on, and I didn't want to start rumors or a scandal. It was frightening because I felt very alone."

That personal loneliness mentioned by both Reina Gomez and Rosalind De Pardee, the feeling of helplessness in the face of a male administrator's misconduct, illuminates a coincidence that belies the women's perceived solitude - the man De Pardee identifies as her harasser is the same man named by Gomez: Hector Gutierrez.

De Pardee, fired by HUD in February, and Gomez, still on her one-year leave of absence, have filed sexual harassment charges with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Gutierrez, a seventeen-year HUD administrative veteran who now serves as acting director of HUD's Region Five Office, where he oversees twenty management employees and more than 1800 residential units. In addition to De Pardee's and Gomez's EEOC claims, two other HUD employees - Art Velasquez and Lucy Llorente, a clerk typist fired by the department in June - have filed related charges of general employment harassment, claiming that their employment status was detrimentally affected as a result of their knowledge of his behavior. This round of claims does not mark the first time someone has accused Gutierrez of sexual harassment; the same charges surfaced in a series of anonymous phone calls made to the county manager's office in 1986 and in a since-resolved EEOC claim brought in 1989 by a former HUD typist.

De Pardee and Gomez assert that Hector Gutierrez's behavior is well-known within the department. But Gutierrez, the two women say, has always been skillful at casting aspersions on his accusers, and when they tried to put a stop to his harassment, they were ignored, branded as troublemakers, and left unprotected from retaliation.

"Anyone who has been at HUD more than three or four years knows about Gutierrez," says Reina Gomez, and there is indeed a persistent buzz regarding misconduct on the part of Gutierrez, who has held various managerial and administrative posts through nearly two decades with the department. Conversations with a number of county personnel, past and present, portray him as a man who used his high administrative post and knowledge of HUD procedure to create difficulties for those who resisted, or who threatened to disclose, his inappropriate sexual behavior.

Not all county employees who have worked with Gutierrez see it that way. Both Armando Vidal, deputy director of county public works, and HUD Chief Auditor Eugene Smith, who each served for a time as Gutierrez's direct supervisor, deny any knowledge of misbehavior. "I never had no complaints given," says Smith, "and I don't deal in hearsay."

And Aundrea Curtis, Gutierrez's former secretary, adds, "I never had any trouble with Hector Gutierrez and never witnessed him sexually harassing anyone. In the office, it was only Hector and myself, and in nine months, I never had any problem. He was really one of the best bosses I ever had, really a terrific guy. I don't know why all these people are giving charges and stuff - I guess they want jobs. But I don't believe they are true."

"Mr. Gutierrez has been doing harassment for fifteen years," counters Modesto Elias, an assistant site manager who retired from HUD in June after seventeen years of county service. "He would say, `You have to go with me to lunch, to date,' or they are fired. If a man in the middle has some contact with a woman, [Gutierrez] will go and get him, too. He is completely crazy. It is how he does everything, all around sex."

Others say Gutierrez frequently boasted about his sexual profligacy, regaling office workers with tales of his prowess. "He would always tell me about his sexual exploits," says Art Velasquez, who has known Gutierrez since the two were co-workers in the mid-Seventies.

Louise Hernandez, a former HUD employee, claims that Gutierrez's sexual advances extended throughout the department. In May 1986, she says, Gutierrez wrote her a "sexually suggestive note." After she received it, she says, she was so upset that she took three days of vacation time before she felt she could return to work. "But it wasn't just me," Hernandez explains. "He harassed many of the girls, many different ways - `Meet me here,' `Meet me outside,' `I like you.' I used to tell him I was married. He said, `I'm not the jealous type.' Once in the parking lot in an incident I witnessed, Rosalind [De Pardee] was getting out of the office and he came up, trying to grab the buttons on the back of her dress. She was pushing him away. He used to harass her a lot. You could tell from the tension."

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