Longform

The Unwanted Touch

Page 7 of 9

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.'"

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Ben Greenman