The Unwanted Touch

So far, roughly half of HUD's employees have undergone the sexual harassment education program, and Affirmative Action officials say they hope the agency's concern about the matter has been made clear. "We have had people come and say `Well, I knew about this situation or that one,'" says Carmen Dieguez, "and during one occasion a person had additional information about the charges currently under investigation. I directed her to the county attorney's office. But whatever the truth of the allegations, we've given a message. We're watching."

While Affirmative Action watches, Reina Gomez and Rosalind De Pardee wait, their claims tied up with the EEOC, the possibility of federal civil rights lawsuits looming in the distance.

EEOC - currently investigating the sexual harassment charges of Gomez and De Pardee (as well as the employment harassment charges of Velasquez and Llorente) - cannot comment even on the existence of the claims, let alone the progress of the investigations. And while the opportunity exists for both sides to negotiate a settlement and terminate the investigation, as in the Cristina De Armas case, both Gomez and De Pardee have ruled out that possibility.

Without a negotiated settlement, if EEOC is unable to complete its investigation within a 180-day period - which elapses at the end of November for Gomez's claim and in mid-December for De Pardee's - the women have the legal right to sever their relationship with the agency and request the right to sue. In such cases EEOC typically grants permission to initiate a civil-rights lawsuit under Title VII of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits workplace discrimination based on race, national origin, or gender (see accompanying sidebar).

Even here, the two women have different plans. Gomez says she will sue as soon as possible: "I'm waiting for the 180 days and then taking it to federal court. I see him so secure, and I'm going to lose everything. Velasquez is going to lose everything. I hate that. Hector has been doing this for fifteen, sixteen years. It has to stop."

De Pardee, on the other hand, who placed her first trust in Affirmative Action, plans to weather the process and abide by the EEOC's findings. The ordeal has nearly devastated her - soured her on her job, shaken her emotionally - and she has chosen to view the investigation as a trial of faith. "I'm not going to pull out," she says. "I want the system to work. I believe in a system, that there are systems, and I hope to God this one doesn't fail. Otherwise, I feel sorry for the rest of us. If this doesn't work, with so many people knowing this, the system is a joke.

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