Longform

The Unwanted Touch

Page 4 of 9

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.'"

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Ben Greenman