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Ah, There's the Rub

Fighting back after his ouster for sexual harassment, former assistant fire Chief Roland Gamez has filed a federal lawsuit that depicts him as the victim of an elaborate plot while portraying the department's communications division that he once led as a bizarre outpost of Machiavellian plotting and odd sexual innuendos...
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Fighting back after his ouster for sexual harassment, former assistant fire Chief Roland Gamez has filed a federal lawsuit that depicts him as the victim of an elaborate plot while portraying the department's communications division that he once led as a bizarre outpost of Machiavellian plotting and odd sexual innuendos. This follows the department's own investigation of Gamez, which documented how he rubbed his employees the wrong way, giving them repeated massages even when they tried to avoid him.

At least one employee, however, was conflicted about her hands-on boss.

"During this time he was massaging my back in an arousal way," one employee told investigators about an encounter in which Gamez tried to persuade her not to transfer to another job. "Did I get aroused? Yes, I did, but I was pissed off that he had the nerve to ask me to stay and do it in that manner."

Now nearly two months after his firing, Gamez remains a polarizing figure, with some saying that the veteran chief should have known better, while others claim that a small number of Gamez's employees turned his easygoing, affectionate disposition against him.

"I guess somebody wanted him gone, and I don't know why," says Tracy Murphy, who worked as a dispatcher under Gamez. "He didn't deserve it. He should still be here."

In his lawsuit, Gamez, a 26-year department veteran, claimed that the sexual harassment charges were drummed up by a gaggle of bitter subordinates who believed he unfairly passed them up for promotion. To retaliate, they began an orchestrated campaign to force the resignation of their direct supervisor and Gamez himself.

"At the same time, in addition to personnel conflicts and jealousies, there were factions within the call center divided along racial, ethnic and cultural lines," reads Gamez's complaint.

Gamez begins the factual basis of his lawsuit recounting an impoverished childhood growing up in the West Dallas housing projects. After completing high school, Gamez went to work for the Dallas Police Department in 1976 and requested a transfer to the fire department four years later. In 1983, Gamez received his undergraduate degree from the University of Texas at Arlington and began to rise steadily through the ranks of the department. In 1999, then fire Chief Dodd Miller promoted him to assistant chief, placing him in charge of the 230-person communications division, which answers and responds to emergency 911 calls. Civilians largely staff the call center while uniform personnel work as dispatchers.

In Gamez's lawsuit, a few civilian members of the communications division's call center had it in for him and a Hispanic woman who served as their immediate supervisor. She in particular served as the object of their petty schemes, including one in which they removed her office furniture while she was on vacation and switched it with old and damaged furniture. The members of this faction made about a half-dozen departmental complaints against her, ranging from serious charges, including embezzling city funds, to rather petty accusations of how she "misappropriated their management ideas." According to the lawsuit, each of these complaints resulted in a department investigation that ultimately exonerated the direct supervisor. Because of that, we decided not to name her.

There's another reason to keep her name out of the press. The woman, who is a grandmother, also was accused of embarrassing sexual harassment charges, as employees complained she was seen "rearranging her undergarments," "pulling on her undergarment restraints" and that her body parts "jiggle." She was also accused of "sticking her hand down her shirt and scratching her private feminine areas." An internal affairs investigation, once again, exonerated the supervisor in part because it concluded that she had no intent to sexually harass anyone. Her undergarments simply didn't fit well.

The same faction that went after their immediate supervisor also targeted Gamez, the lawsuit alleges, concocting a web of lies to ensnare their conscientious boss. The members of this insurgency had a variety of gripes against Gamez, including feeling like they missed out on a deserved performance bonus. According to Gamez's complaint, these people had "demonstrable motives and biases to make false complaints."

Three members of the call center ultimately filed complaints against Gamez, prompting an internal affairs investigation. The department interviewed about 250 employees who had worked for Gamez within the last year, and several civilian members of the call center reported that the chief had touched them inappropriately. Interestingly, none of the uniform personnel said that Gamez misbehaved.

A fire department internal affairs investigation looked into 34 complaints of misconduct against Gamez and sustained 22 of the charges. The investigative report is rather explicit, reporting that he rubbed many of his male and female employees on the back, shoulders and neck after he was asked to stop. He allegedly reached under a table to touch one woman on the thigh and invited himself to dinner at the home of a female subordinate. Most of all, the report shows Gamez to be a serial massager whose targets tended to be young, attractive women.

"I've seen the chief stroke the arm or back of employees, making them uncomfortable," reads one written statement. "It is my understanding that the chief is aware of the discomfort that this causes and has been told by managers of the communication center that these actions cause discomfort to the employees and he should stop. There has been times when the chief has stroked my back or given me a hug and has immediately made the statement: 'I better not do that."'

In both his responses to fire department investigators and in his lawsuit, Gamez has claimed that his behavior is as about as sexual as a tap on the shoulder from Gilbert Gottfried. "My cultural and personal background is to be demonstrative toward others by patting others on the back in a supportive, consoling and appreciative manner," he said in a statement to investigators. "I show this kinship in order to help others feel appreciated."

But some of Gamez's own answers seem peculiar. Responding to a charge that he told a male employee that "I could just kiss you on the lips," Gamez claimed that he meant it as a compliment. "The entire context of this statement is, 'If you were my wife, I'd kiss you on the lips.' This is what I referred to as a job well done." Gamez also explained a charge that he massaged a male employee on the neck by claiming that "in the process of patting him on the back, I may have patted him around his neck and slightly squeezed as a football coach acknowledges a player."

From the outside looking in, even Gamez's acknowledged actions appear to be a little unusual. But Sherrie Wilson, a 28-year veteran of the fire department, says that in the high-stress world of firefighting, bosses develop personal relationships with their employees. "It's a back-slapping sort of job, and a lot of times there's nothing that means more to a firefighter than to feel that they're liked and cared about," she says. Wilson, who worked as a dispatcher under Gamez, says that he was a great chief who acted in the context of his job. "This has been part of the Fire Department subculture for years," she says. "The man will pat you on the back and shake your hand. Nobody ever thought anything of it. I think he was an upstanding guy and that everyone in dispatch feels that way."

Gamez's lawsuit asks for damages and his job back.

Even Dallas Fire-Rescue's own spokesman expresses doubt about Gamez's degree of guilt. "This could be a terrible misunderstanding, and some people are more touchy-feely and maybe that comfort level was passed," says Lieutenant Joel Lavender. "His concerns and issues can still be addressed, and hopefully there is an outcome all parties can live with when it's all said and done."

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