Details of alleged sexual harassment emerge in N.C. Democratic Party scandal

The (Raleigh) News & ObserverApril 19, 2012 

— A former staffer accused North Carolina's state Democratic Party executive director of showing him a picture of male genitals, caressing his leg and discussing his sexual exploits, according to new documents obtained by The News & Observer.

The sexual harassment allegations are detailed in a Dec. 8 letter from Adriadn Ortega, a former party staffer, to then-Executive Director Jay Parmley. Ortega claimed he was “fired in retaliation for my complaints of sexual harassment” and asked for a severance equal to his annual pay and health care coverage for a year.

His allegations match those detailed in a complaint filed Jan. 31 with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission obtained by The N&O. The EEOC complaint stated that Ortega tracked the alleged harassment in a notebook.

Ortega, 26, did not respond to questions. Parmley, 41, could not be reached for comment. He resigned Sunday but denied harassing any employee. He blamed political reasons for his departure.

The lascivious details magnified the spectacle embarrassing the state Democratic Party in an election year and came just days before President Barack Obama is expected to visit North Carolina.

The letter became public minutes after party Chairman David Parker refused to resign under pressure from party leaders, including Gov. Bev Perdue, who asked him to step aside “for the good of the party.” In a statement, Parker said he had the “strong support” of the party’s executive council.

“They have consulted with our party attorney and are clearly as satisfied as I am that there was no cover up and that the personnel matter was professionally and appropriately handled by the party’s attorney,” according to his statement.

He called for a referendum June 17 on his chairmanship.

Perdue called Parker’s plan “totally unacceptable” and his top deputy, First Vice-Chair Gwen Wilkins, said Parker didn’t have the support of all executive council members. “The chairman needs to go,” Perdue said in a statement Wednesday evening.

As chairman, Parker authorized a settlement agreement with Ortega. It’s unclear whether the terms of the severance Ortega put forth in the letter were met, but party officials confirmed the agreement’s existence. The settlement includes a confidentiality agreement, which Ortega wrote in his letter that he would willingly sign.

Parker could not be reached for comment.

In the letter, Ortega says Parmley:

• Frequently gave him unwanted shoulder rubs despite verbal objections.

• Pointed to his crotch area and asked how his crotch looked in his pants.

• On July 28, detailed his past sexual activities.

• On July 29, showed Ortega a picture of a penis.

• On Sept. 6, caressed Ortega’s leg as they drove back from a Democratic convention kick-off in Charlotte.

In the letter, Ortega writes that he confronted Parmley on Oct. 1 and met two days later with former party Executive Director Scott Falmlen to discuss the situation. Falmlen recalled the conversation, but he said Ortega didn’t share the “salacious specifics … I have seen for the first time tonight.”

In the EEOC complaint, Ortega said he was no longer harassed after the meeting. But he was fired Nov. 21.

In his letter, he defended his work as a tracker, a party operative who follows candidates from the other party and takes video of their speeches.

“I believe that the sexual harassment towards me created an offensive, hostile work environment,” Ortega wrote.

Ortega, who started working for the party in March 2010, asked for a settlement equivalent to his pay. He made roughly $20,000 a year, according to campaign-finance reports, which is the settlement he asked for.

He gave the party a week to respond to his letter and threatened to make a complaint to the party’s executive council or pursue legal action.

Late Wednesday, Democratic Party attorney John Wallace released a statement saying, “In this type of situation, it is difficult if not impossible to ascertain the truth.”

He said the terms of the agreement were confidential, but Ortega “acknowledged that he had a satisfactory working relationship with the Democratic Party.”

The News & Observer began investigating Ortega’s departure in December. The party refused to comment at the time, calling it a personnel matter. Ortega also initially denied being harassed and keeping a notebook.

The allegations did not become public until Friday, when internal party email messages were obtained by The News & Observer. The messages did not detail the allegations or identify the individuals involved.

Parmley, who served less than a year at the helm of the party, denied harassing any employee and blamed right-wing political enemies for “spreading a false and misleading story.”

“Even though I have not done anything wrong, it is clear to me that I need to move on,” Parmley wrote in his resignation letter. “I refuse to be a distraction.”

Parker’s departure appeared all but certain Tuesday when the Democratic establishment – including Perdue, Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton and eight other top Democrats – called for him to resign, saying he had lost the confidence of the party.

The 57-year-old Statesville attorney and veteran activist took the chairmanship of the party in January 2011, promising to lead it to victory after Democrats took a blow in the previous election and lost control of the state legislature for the first time in more than a century.

As a swing state, North Carolina is poised to play a crucial role in President Barack Obama’s re-election strategy and serves as host of the national Democratic convention in September. The point was driven home Wednesday when the White House announced that Obama would travel to the Raleigh area Tuesday. His campaign did not respond to comments about the conflict at the state party.

To read more, visit www.newsobserver.com.

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