Alleged Sexual Harasser Cites President-Elect’s Comments as Legal Defense
Public official allegedly offered subordinate $1,000 to go to a hotel with him
“I was trying to lift her spirits,” David Gutierrez, former Treasurer in Doña Ana County, CA, told the jury at his recent corruption trial. He was attempting to explain his reasoning for allegedly offering a subordinate $1,000 to spend a few hours in a hotel with him.
At trial, Gutierrez recounted his conversation with county teller Luz Olivia Nuñez. “We were talking, and at one point in the conversation, I told her that she was an attractive woman … and that anybody would give her $1,000 for a couple of hours in the privacy of a hotel room.” Under questioning, Gutierrez said that he meant the statement as a compliment rather than a proposition, according to the Las Cruces Sun-News.
Gutierrez’s attorney cited President-Elect’s Trump’s recent comments about women as a defense. "(S)o many things were said over the last year that were inappropriate by politicians who are in office and want to be ... if those are not grossly immoral, how could this be?”
The attorney also stated: "There's a man who is going take office on Jan. 1, 2017, the highest office in our land, who apparently, notwithstanding the things he has said over the course of the last year or two, is fit for office." [Note: The defense attorney’s statement about the inauguration date is incorrect. Inauguration Day takes place on January 20th in the year following an election.]
This novel defense raises some interesting questions about what constitutes acceptable or unacceptable behavior in terms of sexual harassment. Let’s take a look at how this argument played out in court.
Has the definition of harassment changed?
Gutierrez lost his trial. He was stripped of his title and duties after being found guilty of public corruption or gross immorality by public official. He is currently appealing the ruling.
Despite Gutierrez’s defense that certain sexual conversations are now more socially acceptable, the legal definition of sexual harassment remains unchanged.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), unlawful harassment “can include ‘sexual harassment’ or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature.”
Harassment may also include offensive comments based on someone’s sex. Harassers and perpetrators may be male or female, and victims and harassers may be of the same sex.
However, the law does not prohibit teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are “not very serious.”
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While sexual harassment is prohibited under federal law, many instances of harassment may be open to interpretation. Because of that, victims may find it challenging to have their complaints taken seriously.
That’s why women or men who feel that they have been sexually harassed would be wise to speak to an attorney to find out more about their rights. Keep in mind that some states and municipalities have their own laws pertaining to sexual harassment, allowing victims to seek relief under multiple statutes.
Call or email us today to discuss your unique situation.