Longform

The Unwanted Touch

Page 8 of 9

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."

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Ben Greenman