Alleged victim said he was told job was safe

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 19, 2012

RALEIGH (AP) — A former North Carolina Democratic Party employee said in a federal complaint that he was fired despite assurances he would not be terminated after he told officials in the organization that its executive director was sexually harassing him.
The complaint was filed by Adriadn Ortega. The Associated Press typically does not identify victims of sexual harassment but Ortega gave the AP permission to identify him as the former party employee who filed the complaint. Ortega refused Wednesday to comment about the complaint.
Executive Director Jay Parmley resigned Sunday but denied any harassment. He didn’t respond immediately to a request seeking comment Wednesday.
An attorney for the state Democratic Party, John Wallace, released Wednesday to the AP a copy of the complaint that was filed Jan. 31 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
The complaint’s release came as party Chairman David Parker defied calls to step down Wednesday. Parker announced a June 17 meeting of the party’s 750-member State Executive Committee to decide his fate in a referendum on his performance. But Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue said later that wasn’t good enough and still wanted him to resign.
In the federal complaint, Ortega said he worked for the organization since March 2010.
“During my tenure I was sexually harassed by the executive director,” he wrote in the complaint, which indicated the allegation happened between early September and late November 2011.
Ortega said in the complaint he discussed the harassment with the party’s director of administration in September and that his supervisor told him on Oct. 1 that he had been advised of the allegations.
After meeting with another party operative, Ortega said he was told that there would be no retaliation for his complaint.
“I was no longer sexually harassed but on or around Nov. 21, 2011, my employment was terminated,” Ortega said in the complaint.
Ortega alleged in the complaint that another party official took notebooks containing accounts of the harassment. That official denied Ortega’s claim to the AP.
Wallace said in an email statement that it was his responsibility to resolve the matter equitably and appropriately. He said the subsequent negotiation led to a resolution agreed upon by both sides.
“The parties contemplated that the terms of the agreement would remain confidential, but at the same time, explicitly contemplated that the dispute between the parties would not be prejudicial to the former employee nor to my client,” Wallace said.
Wallace said the EEOC’s mediation and settlement procedures are confidential and that he was “surprised at the eagerness with which the press would seek to have the parties violate the terms of their agreement.”
In an email to committee members, Parker said the Executive Committee will hold an election if other candidates seek to challenge him for the chairman’s post. Although Perdue, six other Council of State members and Democratic legislative leaders have called on him to step aside immediately, Parker said other party officials are satisfied with his handling of harassment allegations against Parmley.
“The concerns of the elected officials, while unfounded, challenge us to discern the leadership direction of this party,” Parker wrote in the email.
Perdue and two gubernatorial candidates, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and state Rep. Bill Faison, kept up the pressure Wednesday night, saying Parker needs to step down for the good of the party.
“I am reiterating my call for the chairman of the party to resign,” Perdue said in a prepared statement. “The process laid out by the chairman in his email late today to Executive Committee members is totally unacceptable. The chairman needs to go.”
Faison, who finished second to Parker in the party chairman’s election last year, said Parker is “continuing to make this about him and to be a distraction when it would be far better for the people of the state for him to step up and take responsibility for the decisions he’s made and the actions that he’s taken.”
Parker, a Statesville attorney, became the focus of resignation calls after Parmley resigned on Sunday. Parmley referred in his resignation letter to “a supposed incident of harassment at the NCDP” but denied he had ever harassed any employee at the state party or at any other job. Parmley previously held a party post in South Carolina.
Marc Farinella, a spokesman for Perdue on political matters, said the governor had no involvement in the personnel matter beyond making sure it was being resolved.
Still, leading Democrats said they were unhappy that they were unaware of what had happened and with Parker’s handling of the issue, which has caused turmoil among party activists and elected officials alike.
Five Council of State members, all Democrats, issued a statement Tuesday saying Parker should resign because he “can no longer be as effective as he needs to be under the circumstances.”
The state’s top elective offices are on the ballot this fall, and the Democratic National Convention will be held in Charlotte this summer.
But Parker wrote that the party’s 41-member Executive Council has given “their strong support for my continued chairmanship.”
Executive Council members “have consulted with our party attorney and are clearly as satisfied as am I that there was no cover up and that the personnel matter was professionally and appropriately handled by the party’s attorney using the highest ethical standards,” Parker said.
The state Democratic Party has a mechanism for removing a chairman upon the filing of a petition and a vote of a 17-member party panel that hears disputes.
The party is dealing with these problems during a season of setbacks for state Democrats. Two years ago, Republicans captured a majority in both the House and Senate for the first time since 1870. Perdue decided in January not to seek re-election, leaving the party scrambling to choose a rival to presumptive GOP nominee Pat McCrory.