Longform

The Unwanted Touch

Page 3 of 9

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."

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Ben Greenman