Longform

The Unwanted Touch

Page 6 of 9

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.

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Ben Greenman