The Unwanted Touch

"Maybe when someone wants to take action against me, they choose something they have heard mentioned. This department is very unique in the amount of rumors and hearsay," Gutierrez says. "And those sexual harassment allegations are rumors. They are false rumors." Furthermore, he asserts, both women waited until the twilight of their careers with the county to file with EEOC; that convenient timing, the conspicuous silence that preceded the claims, should cast doubt upon the legitimacy of the claims.

While it is true that both Gomez and De Pardee delayed filing until after they were terminated by HUD, sexual harassment experts scoff at the notion that women deserve skeptical treatment if they have postponed action until after they have been fired. "People say that there's some sort of victim syndrome, but I'd say it's more common sense," asserts NOW's Alison Wetherfield. "Women fear, often with good reason, that people who make complaints get a raw deal, that they don't get a decent investigation, that things aren't taken seriously, that making waves could lead to negative job implications. If you ask women, `Would you march straight into a superior's office to complain about sexual harassment?' not all the women would come forward. It takes a very brave person to file at all, and very often people leave a place before they have the courage to file a formal complaint. But you don't see many people falsifying sexual harassment claims to take their revenge on a disliked superior. It simply doesn't happen."

Transferred to Metro-Dade Transit Agency in November of 1986 due to the dissolution of the Tenant Selection Office, Rosalind De Pardee returned to HUD in February 1989 as a site manager. When she applied for the post, Hector Gutierrez was on her panel of interviewers, as he had been in 1986. "I was surprised that he was there," she says. "But I made it a point to make sure everyone knew I would be married in a couple of weeks. I made sure everyone understood that I was engaged. I truly believed that being married, he would leave me alone. I thought that he would respect that."

But late in the summer of last year, she alleges, Gutierrez's harassment resumed. Sometime in August, she says, a visit to his office to have a form signed ended in unwelcome physical advances. (Gutierrez denies the charge, adding that he was on vacation during half the month in question.) On an administrative form dated September 26, 1989, De Pardee scribbled in the lower margin, "You kept me waiting long/Kiss." Other alleged episodes, all dismissed by Gutierrez as fabrications, include uninvited sexual banter, hugs, kisses, and a February incident in which De Pardee claims Gutierrez hissed suggestively at her. In the winter, she visited Mary Keller for a second time to report the persistence of the alleged harassment, a meeting Keller also remembers, and in the early months of this year De Pardee decided to take action. "Rosalind grew up," she says of herself. "She understood this would never stop unless she did her part to stop it."

De Pardee visited the county Affirmative Action office on February 23, 1990 - three days after she was fired by Dade County HUD for poor performance at work - to register a sexual harassment claim against Hector Gutierrez, as well as an employment harassment claim against Wendell Brewer, her district supervisor. The claim against Brewer fell by the wayside - "I guess the sexual harassment charge kind of took precedence," says De Pardee. Affirmative Action's investigation lasted ten weeks and involved interviews with eleven HUD employees, including a 90-minute session with Gutierrez himself. In a May 1 summation memorandum, Carmen Dieguez, who oversaw the interviews, reported that the office could find no compelling evidence of sexual harassment. De Pardee's claims were dismissed.

In her report, copies of which were sent to De Pardee and the HUD director's office, Dieguez did mention a preponderance of intradepartmental gossip ("...At least three of the persons interviewed claimed to have heard rumors or hearsay about Gutierrez being a womanizer or romancer of female HUD employees"), but she warned that these rumors could not be accepted as fact. "In conclusion," she wrote, "De Pardee's allegations were rebutted by Gutierrez's denial of the charges, they being reduced to her word against his."

NOW's Alison Wetherfield, who laments the lack of support offered to women who allege sexual harassment, says serious charges such as these should not be considered resolved after a single inconclusive determination. "If it is one person's word being believed against another, as it often is in these cases," she says, "you have to look carefully at that process, at why one party is chosen as the reliable one. Unfortunately, many investigations are conducted in a hostile manner, and it's a sad fact that women in this society are not given the kind of credence they deserve."

Despite finding no compelling evidence of harassment, Dieguez also mentioned Affirmative Action's consternation over Gutierrez's curious behavior while under investigation. When Dieguez met with Gutierrez, he presented her with a detailed case to support De Pardee's termination, enumerating problematic incidents in their business relationship. This after-the-fact scrutiny of De Pardee, Dieguez remarked, was tantamount to a counterinvestigation; "Gutierrez launched a full-scale investigation up until one week and a half before the fact-finding conference began," she wrote, "without knowing the exact nature of De Pardee's complaint."

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