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The Unwanted Touch

It is a scene Carmen Dieguez has witnessed again and again, always the same circumstance, the man and the woman standing next to the Xerox machine, casually eyeing one another, waiting for copies. Each time as Dieguez watches, the man asks the woman to join him for lunch. Each time, she demurs. He makes a comment about her figure, says something suggestive, issues the request again - except this time for after-hours drinks. When she tries to leave, he blocks her exit and presses her hand against the copier, sliding his gaze down her shoulders and hips. And each time, Carmen Dieguez stands on silently. She does not intercede on behalf of the woman. She does not contact a superior to investigate. She simply watches the ordeal proceed.

In most cases Dieguez's nonchalance would be construed as complicity, the Kitty Genovese stabbing writ small. But here Dieguez is blameless: the copy-machine scene is illuminated not by the flickering fluorescent of an office supply room but by the thin beacon of a projector bulb. It's film fiction, a dramatic vignette played out by actors. The encounter, and others like it, are part of Impact vs. Intent, a 45-minute educational film currently making the rounds through Dade County's Department of Housing and Urban Development, where Dieguez, an investigator with Dade County's Affirmative Action office, is conducting an intensive training program about sexual harassment.

The HUD sexual harassment training, undertaken in July, marks the latest attempt by the agency to repair the cracks that nearly broke the department apart in recent years - the federal indictment of former director James Baugh, the court order issued by the Florida State Attorney's Office that called for better conditions in the housing projects, the frequent reorganizations and reforms. Those demands not only weakened the department politically, but also adversely affected the psychological and emotional security of employees. In an environment of such radical instability, employee discontent skyrockets. "Employees out there are very uncomfortable," says Marcia Saunders, director of Dade's Affirmative Action office, the county agency that investigates cases of alleged sexual harassment. "Through all this chaos, through all these ups and downs, we would get a lot of questions in all areas at HUD - and we're trying to keep a real presence over there."

The two-and-a-half-hour educational sessions, which should run through January, begin with a test designed to explode common misconceptions, after which Dieguez screens the instructional film and leads a discussion. Workplace sexual harassment, she suggests, is a phrase the employment world has accepted into its everyday parlance without clearly understanding its terms.

First Dieguez must clarify "the myth of the typical victim," the fallacy that sexual harassment is merely a matter of dirty old executives depositing their decrepit fingerprints on the tight miniskirts of their secretaries. The National Organization for Women's Legal Defense and Education Fund in New York City estimates that between 50 and 75 percent of all employed women have experienced some sort of sexual harassment on the job, from low-intensity offenses such as ogling to atrocities such as rape. "I don't know who tracks how many claims get into court," says Alison Wetherfield, the NOW fund's legal director, "but I would say thousands rather than hundreds, and it's certainly thousands who file nationally with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission." And for all those who file formal claims, Wetherfield notes, there are thousands more who withhold allegations, afraid to lower the boom on their employers for fear of retaliation.

Dieguez believes that the triply crippling effects of sexual harassment - the humiliation of undesired touch, the fear of job loss, and the consequent decrease in enthusiasm for work - is more than sufficient reason for candid discussion about when acceptable flirting verges on illegal harassment. "We try to stress that when these things happen, they usually begin with what might be deemed acceptable behavior, or at worst somewhat questionable, and then they escalate," she says. "In the copier scene, we go over it stage by stage, talk about when the woman first communicates that the advances are unwelcome and she is uncomfortable, when the man steps over the line, when the behavior first becomes harassment."

Also addressed are such issues as cultural differences, gender attitudes, and the difficulty of maintaining a sexual identity in the workplace. "We don't try to tell people how to conduct themselves sexually," says Dieguez. "The most important thing to keep in mind is that in the workplace we must retain a standard of professional behavior, that we must respect the bodies of others, and that we cannot send out messages that link sexual response and workplace evaluation." If employees feel they have been harassed, the training program suggests a host of strategies, most involving candid confrontation of the problem. "We recommend that people record incidents," Dieguez says, "and that if there is a problem, they deliver a formal letter detailing the problem to the alleged offender. That way no one can say they didn't know about it, and no one can say they didn't know it was bothering an employee."

 

Early reaction to the sessions has been positive - in written evaluations, HUD employees have expressed relief that such sensitive issues are being addressed candidly, and have commended the undogmatic, occasionally humorous manner in which Dieguez conducts the program.

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."

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."

Hernandez quit county employ shortly afterward and never pursued any official action against Hector Gutierrez. But also during May 1986, the county manager's office reported receiving three anonymous phone calls claiming sexual harassment on the part of Gutierrez, who was then a HUD housing management officer. The calls - from three different women who accused Gutierrez of promising apartments based on sexual favors and of sexually harassing apartment residents - were judged by then-HUD Director Melvin Adams to be spurious, a rumor campaign intended to discredit Gutierrez. Nonetheless, a record of the calls was placed in Gutierrez's personnel file.

In May 1989, a clerk typist named Maria Cristina De Armas filed sexual harassment charges against Gutierrez after only two months on the job. In her complaint to the federal EEOC, De Armas alleged that Gutierrez had asked her out for dinner and drinks, and continued to ask despite her refusal. Fired for poor performance at work three days after she filed her complaint, nine months later she negotiated a settlement, which changed the status of her termination to a resignation, secured a promise that no retaliatory action would be taken against her for filing, and prematurely ended the EEOC investigation. Honoring the terms of her agreement, she declines to discuss the charge today. As a result of the settlement, there is no record of the charge in Gutierrez's personnel file.

Hector Gutierrez arrives 35 minutes late for an 8:00 a.m. interview, apologetic for his tardiness. The HUD South Regional Offices at 450 SW Fifth Street, preparing for a move to Naranja, are in a state of transition, with boxed files stacked in corners and walls stripped bare. Gutierrez, 40, is ruddy-faced, with thinning hair and a mustache that curls down around the sides of his mouth.

Before the interview begins, he asks if his secretary can sit in on the meeting and take notes - for accuracy's sake, should a discrepancy later arise. This insistence upon exactness characterizes Gutierrez's employment record; throughout the conversation, he refers repeatedly to his vision of himself as a strict administrator who plays by the rules impartially and invariably. "I think I do my job outstanding," he says. "I treat my employees all the same. I go by the book and I expect to be treated by the book."

Friendly and willing to discuss in detail all the charges and allegations that have been brought against him - all of which he denies unequivocally - Gutierrez begins by addressing the claims of Rosalind De Pardee. He speaks highly of her and appears confused by her charges. "She was always very courteous, very friendly," he recalls. "At the last Christmas party she gave me a gift, a little cup that says `I love you.'"

 

"I don't think the mug said that," responds De Pardee. "I don't remember exactly. But I gave other administrators identical mugs as well. I gave gifts to my secretary and received gifts."

But the mug, Gutierrez explains, is a symbol, indicative of the general good will and professionalism that characterized their interaction. "Ms. De Pardee always conducted herself very ladylike," he says. "At no point did she express problems with me." But allegations of his misconduct date back all the way to 1986. Nearly four years before her dismissal, De Pardee had complained about Gutierrez in her meeting with Mary Keller, a meeting Keller remembers well. "That is a fact, yes, Rosalind did come to see me in 1986 to tell me about her belief that Hector Gutierrez was sexually harassing her," Keller says now, confirming that she advised De Pardee to continue trying to consult with Eugene Smith about the matter. Further, former HUD employee Louise Hernandez witnessed at least one 1986 encounter between Gutierrez and De Pardee. Gutierrez disputes all incidents mentioned by Hernandez; he does not even remember her, he says.

Regarding Reina Gomez, Gutierrez is even more brief. Not only are her allegations slanderous and false, he claims, but his previously cordial relationship with Gomez was damaged irreparably as a result of a March 1990 incident. "At that time," he says, "Reina Gomez emphatically stressed to my wife that I was having affairs with female employees," he says. "These are things of such a personal and emphatic nature that they are unbelievable. Some of the comments she made to my wife were the first I had heard of these rumors about myself." After that March incident (which Gomez says never happened), Gutierrez contends that he refused to speak with her. "I did not accept calls from Reina Gomez at my house. I did not see her at work. Sunday, May 6, she returned a call concerning an emergency at Jack Orr Plaza. That was the last time I have spoken with Reina Gomez. The only harassment that has occurred between us has been Gomez harassing my wife." The late-night calls Gomez alleges, he says, occurred less frequently than she claims, and involved only business.

Part 3

Gutierrez professes not to know why both De Pardee and Gomez would lie about his behavior, suggesting that the claims are the self-serving slander of disgruntled employees. "I consider myself a tough administrator, very committed and dedicated to the department," he says. "I strictly enforce policies and procedures. I have probably been the administrator most involved, directly and indirectly, in employee disciplinary actions, and of course that will make some people irritated at me.

"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."

For the charged party in such a complaint to enact a partisan investigation of his own, Affirmative Action investigators insist, jeopardizes the integrity of the system. "We were more than upset with Gutierrez, be he guilty or innocent," says the agency's director, Marcia Saunders. Indeed, in her report Dieguez also noted that Gutierrez's interference may have "created tensions and added rumors in the workplace [and] thus, even tainted or prejudiced testimonies of this office's own investigation."

In a January 1988 evaluation of Hector Gutierrez, Armando Vidal, former HUD assistant director for housing operations noted that "this employee has outstanding writing skills." It is the manner in which Gutierrez chooses to deploy those formidable writing skills that frightens those who have charged him. Gutierrez's method, they say, is one of administrative bullying and manipulation of facts. "Why no one talked about [Gutierrez] is a good question," says Lucy Llorente, whose employment-harassment charge is currently pending with EEOC. "Part of it is the effect he had on jobs. He could write horrors about you and everyone would believe it."

Upon registering a complaint against Gutierrez, his accusers frequently became the subjects of attacks that detailed their own on-the-job offenses. When Cristina De Armas filed her EEOC sexual-harassment charges in May 1989, for instance, Gutierrez promptly fired off a round of memos - with titles such as "Request for Investigation and Proper Action Concerning Malicious Slander" and "Malicious Slander from a Probationary Employee" - to fellow HUD administrators.

 

Those who have accused Gutierrez do not deny the objective truth of his memorandum campaigns. They hold, however, that he employs his administrative vigilance selectively, trumping up small charges and targeting those employees who have threatened to disclose information regarding his alleged misconduct. People who work at HUD must make "a hundred decisions a day," explains Art Velasquez. "And anyone who wants to look through the record of those decisions and find a way to get you, will get you. Hector takes things out of their context and magnifies."

"What he does," adds Reina Gomez, "is to get rid of you, and then to tell everyone who is left, `Look, she challenged me, and this is what happened to her. And I am still here.'"

Gutierrez stands by his record. He has, he says, been involved in many disciplinary actions, and many of the employees he has disciplined never brought any charges against him. All of his actions, he insists proudly, have been based on strict and valid application of departmental regulations.

Rosalind De Pardee, cautious and methodical, went in confidence to Affirmative Action to file a formal charge against Hector Gutierrez. Reina Gomez, sociable and garrulous, opted for a less formal route. Both roads led to frustration.

On a Saturday morning in May 1990, four days after Affirmative Action released its findings in the De Pardee investigation, Gomez met with Earl Phillips, director of HUD. Phillips, a twenty-year veteran of housing administration who spent time in Newark and Houston before coming to Miami in November 1989, brought with him a reputation for discipline and morale-boosting that the county hoped would set HUD on the road to recovery from its late-Eighties tumult. Greg Byrne, deputy director of HUD, was also present at the meeting.

Gomez says that instead of exposing the serious damage done to the work environment by Gutierrez's alleged sexual misconduct, her concerns were met with some degree of levity. "Mr. Phillips was a little funny, a little sarcastic," she recalls. "I told him, `Listen, it's not just me, it's fifteen years. You have to do something about this guy.'"

Phillips does not dispute the content of the meeting, but the tone, he says, was casual and relaxed, and his level of seriousness should be considered in that context. "We joked. We had a good time. I like Reina. I get along well with her," says Phillips. "But that by no means indicates that I didn't take the meeting seriously. She was alleging that there was sexual harassment and advances toward her. The reason I took the time in the first place is that the charges were very serious ones. That was the first time I had heard anything. The thing there was that for the majority of the stuff, she couldn't give me dates, nor could she tell me any other people. I told her I would pass it on to personnel and that it would be dealt with from there."

Part 4

Six days after the meeting, Reina Gomez was demoted from her site manager position. Within the month, she filed a complaint with EEOC.

The department, Phillips insists, did everything in its power to resolve the issue, adding that if he had heard any more allegations of sexual harassment, he would have redoubled his efforts to root out the truth. But according to the May 1 date on Affirmative Action's report, news of the Rosalind De Pardee investigation should have reached Phillips before (or, at worst, shortly after) Reina Gomez's May 5 visit. The proximity of the Rosalind De Pardee investigation and the meeting with Reina Gomez - not to mention the anonymous 1986 complaints, the 1989 Cristina De Armas claim, and the persistent intradepartmental rumors - would seem to provide sufficient reason to look into the matter.

But to discern a pattern in such incidents, administrators must be able to remember them, and upper-tier HUD staff, notably Phillips and Eileen Maloney-Simon, director of housing management, cannot specifically recall Rosalind De Pardee's Affirmative Action paperwork. "I don't remember that memo," admits Phillips. "And I may have seen it. I don't remember." Both Phillips and Maloney-Simon, in fact, seem to be operating under the erroneous belief that Reina Gomez, and not Rosalind De Pardee, filed a claim with Affirmative Action. "I don't recall any formal action on the part of Rosalind De Pardee," says Maloney-Simon, "I know one of the women filed it. I thought it was Reina. I could be mistaken."

Amnesia, the disease that most often acts as a plot catalyst in television soap operas, seems to operate similarly in the HUD soap opera; it appears that Earl Phillips confused the Gomez meeting with Affirmative Action's negative determination in the Rosalind De Pardee case. "After the conversation with Reina Gomez," says Phillips, "I asked personnel to find out, and they came back `no cause.'"

 

Sheryl Dallas, HUD chief of employee relations, oversaw the attempted investigation of Reina Gomez's claims at the request of Phillips, and her account clarifies the matter somewhat. "Ms. Gomez met with Mr. Phillips and he asked me what was going on. Gomez would not talk to us - did not return our phone calls. It was impossible for me to conduct any investigation, and if she didn't want to talk to us, there was no way we could talk to her. That's what I reported to Mr. Phillips."

"I made an appointment with Affirmative Action," explains Gomez, "but I didn't go. I had heard what happened with Rosalind. I'm sure they tried to do good for her, but they didn't. And I knew from my meeting that Mr. Phillips wouldn't do anything."

Mistakenly secure in the belief that Reina Gomez's claim had been investigated and dismissed, Phillips still saw fit to hold a June lunch meeting in which he says he encouraged Gutierrez to participate in counseling. According to Eileen Maloney-Simon, who also attended the meeting, the advice was informal, not a mandate of any sort. "I had just recently taken over the position of director of housing management, and that was the first I had heard of any concerns," says Maloney-Simon. "Mr. Phillips chose to advise Mr. Gutierrez, to let him know that there's an employee's assistance program, that they had received some complaints, nothing verifiable." Gutierrez confirms the meeting, although he will not discuss the specifics of Phillips's recommendation.

That lunch meeting was not the only effect of the sexual harassment claims. Carmen Dieguez, as well as members of HUD's personnel department, explains that the HUD sexual harassment training sessions resulted from the Affirmative Action claim brought by Rosalind De Pardee against Hector Gutierrez. "It is a specific outgrowth of that," says Dieguez. "We had already discussed doing sexual harassment training as part of our overall training," adds employee relations chief Sheryl Dallas, "and this seemed like the perfect time to start. It was fortuitous."

The one HUD administrator who refuses to confirm the widely conceded link between the sexual harassment training sessions and Hector Gutierrez is department director Earl Phillips. "The training had nothing to do with Hector Gutierrez and the situation with him. Don't print that it did. It's not fair," says Phillips, adding, "And I think you'll find it's only leadership personnel." In fact, the program involves all 600 HUD employees.

Despite his apparent confusion over the origin and extent of the program, Phillips says he supports its aims wholeheartedly. "I think it's excellent, and I certainly learned a lot," he says. "I never knew it was sexual harassment to eyeball somebody, look them up and down."

And that is exactly the problem, says Alison Wetherfield. Those who enforce policy often have notions as misguided and vague as those who are accused of sexual harassment misdeeds. Only four years ago the Supreme Court ruled that sexual harassment was illegal, Wetherfield says, adding that after the decision, many companies merely placed an extra line in their employment personnel manuals: "Sexual harassment will not be tolerated." "If that's all you say, you're going to have problems, because sexual harassment means different things to different people. We always recommend that you set forth a whole series of behaviors - any form of touching that is undesired, sexual innuendo, the perception of a sexual basis for work evaluation. If it is unwelcome, it can be sexual harassment."

Hector Gutierrez, part of the first group to attend the workshop, used the question-and-answer period to investigate his own circumstance. "It was great, very knowledgeable," he says. "The only thing I asked Carmen Dieguez is, `What recourse does one have in case of false allegations?' We also discussed why someone might file a false claim. Some accusations arise from - let me see how it was worded - disgusted employees or employees who were affected by some sort of negative action, rating, or some sort of disciplinary action. That was the only reason given why someone would file a false accusation."

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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