TOPEKA — A Kansas Department of Revenue attorney faces complaints of tormenting state workers with sexually charged comments and unprofessional assertions that women in law enforcement are lesbians, Hispanic culture is bankrupting Catholic churches and pleasure can be found in scheduling job interviews for unqualified applicants with big breasts.
Attorney Jerome Gorman is portrayed in interviews and documents obtained by the Topeka Capital-Journal as an upper-echelon revenue department employee who fearlessly exposed subordinates to sexual harassment and toxic remarks.
Gorman was the Wyandotte County district attorney until hired nearly one year ago into the administration of Gov. Sam Brownback.
Allegations regarding Gorman were presented in September and December to Brownback administration lawyers and human resources personnel. The messenger was Marc McCune, who began his Kansas law enforcement career in 1980 and worked for the Kansas Highway Patrol, Kansas Attorney General’s Office and Kansas Adjutant General’s Department before joining the revenue department as special agent in charge.
McCune shared with superiors in the revenue department personal observations of Gorman and first-person accounts from other employees. McCune also sent a memorandum outlining concerns about Gorman to the Department of Administration.
Two months after raising the alarm, McCune was fired by Department of Revenue Secretary Sam Williams. McCune said he believes his dismissal was a consequence of making waves about Gorman.
“It was almost a daily occurrence that he would say something that was offensive to somebody. He wasn’t careful who he would say these things around,” McCune said. “The bottom line is it’s a buddy system over there that I wasn’t fully aware of until this happened.”
Rachel Whitten, spokeswoman for the governor and the revenue department, said Tuesday it was premature to draw conclusions about complaints leveled at Gorman.
“The investigation into Mr. McCune’s allegations is currently ongoing by the Department of Administration,” she said.
Brownback issued a statement last week that said sexual harassment was forbidden in the executive branch.
“Ignorance is not an excuse for harassment,” the Republican governor said. “The solution lies in treating all people with equal respect and dignity as individuals.”
Finding ‘work wives’
Gorman, who said Tuesday he was “unaware of any allegations” against him, served 11 years as district attorney in Wyandotte County. Defeated for re-election in August 2016, he left the D.A.’s office in January 2017 and began work as director of the revenue department’s special investigation office. The Washburn University law school graduate earns $102,000.
As a state government attorney, Gorman was said to have exhibited an infatuation with sexual innuendo and an appetite for raising provocative topics during department staff meetings and in private conversations at work.
“He came from an office where he was the ultimate boss and he could say anything he wanted,” McCune said. “He was used to saying whatever was on his mind without repercussions.”
Gorman supposedly told colleagues he enjoyed relationships with so-called “work wives” at the district attorney’s office in Kansas City, Kan. He expressed optimism a female revenue department employee would step forward to assume the role in Topeka.
Critics of Gorman said he bragged about conducting job interviews in the Wyandotte County D.A.’s office with obviously unqualified female applicants, including a Playboy model, for the purpose of amusing himself.
Gorman purportedly referred to an applicant for a revenue department job as the “blonde with big boobs.” While talking on a telephone in speaker mode and within earshot of women in the revenue department office, Gorman allegedly sought a job reference from a law enforcement agency by alluding to the woman’s anatomy rather than saying her name.
He also is alleged to have responded during a revenue department staff meeting to a comment about a talkative female employee by declaring, “With legs like that, I bet her husband doesn’t mind.”
Gorman supposedly admitted he had an aversion to hiring young women because they had a tendency to get pregnant, have babies and take excessive time off from work to care for ill children.
Gorman reportedly shared with staff members he once had a female employee who pulled down her pants in his office to show off a thigh tattoo. People who heard Gorman recite this story said he told the woman he was unable to properly assess the tattoo’s artistic qualities because his eyes were drawn elsewhere. According to Gorman, his colleagues said, the woman dropped her pants a second time.
At the revenue office, Gorman allegedly joked about erectile dysfunction and made quips about bisexuality. During mandatory departmental training, Gorman reportedly paused to comment on the hormonal imbalance of a woman employee.
On multiple occasions, according to documents and interviews, Gorman shared with office staff a belief Catholic churches, including one he attended, were being driven toward bankruptcy by parasitic Hispanics. Gorman’s superiors were told Gorman claimed Hispanics were “destroying the Catholic church because it’s their culture to have the church provide everything for them but they contribute nothing to the church.”
Gorman seemingly suggested during an employee gathering that a revenue department staff member could deal with her sick cat by taking “it to a Chinese restaurant” for use in cooked meals.
Gorman, the top law enforcement officer in Wyandotte County for more than a decade and the director of a state criminal investigation unit, was accused of pestering a female subordinate with questions about why so many women in law enforcement were gay.
Gorman enthusiastically told state employees about driving away from a Sonic restaurant in Kentucky during an armed robbery without calling 911, determining if anyone was injured or waiting to provide a suspect description to police.
“Mr. Gorman’s response was to push the call button and announce to the employees that he knew ‘they were a little busy’ so they could disregard his order,” McCune said.
Gorman reportedly accused fellow Democrat Mark Dupree, who ousted him in the 2016 election for district attorney, of pandering to black voters in Wyandotte County to secure the victory. Gorman would whisper the word “black” during bitter recitations about how the politics of race enabled Dupree, a black attorney and minister, to prevail 59 percent to 41 percent at the ballot box.
Jonathan Carter, a spokesman for Dupree, said he wouldn’t respond to political statements attributed to Gorman.
“We’re not going to comment on anything Mr. Gorman may or may not have said,” Carter said.
McCune, who climbed to the rank of captain in the Kansas Highway Patrol before retirement from that agency in 2012, documented Gorman’s comments with contemporaneous notes that included reports from other state workers. He presented the information Sept. 27 to the revenue department’s chief legal counsel, David Clauser, and another top lawyer at the agency, Robert Challquist.
McCune said Clauser asked during the meeting whether Gorman ever asserted men could do a job better than women.
“When I responded, ‘No,’ he said nothing, but shrugged his shoulders with upturned palms,” McCune said.
McCune said he understood the reaction of Clauser and silence from Challquist to mean neither found the statements ostensibly made by Gorman to be actionable.
“These people are in a position of authority, who mandate that you’ve got to go to sexual harassment training,” McCune said. “Then, when it’s right in front of them, they refuse to deal with it.”
On Tuesday, Challquist said he didn’t want to comment on Gorman or McCune.
On the morning of Dec. 1, McCune was fired at a brief meeting attended by Gorman. McCune said the revenue department’s human resources director, William Malfait, handed him the pink slip. He said Malfait declined to articulate a reason for the dismissal but accurately noted McCune was an unclassified employee and subject to dismissal without cause.
It is possible an email sent Nov. 29 to Gorman by Nancy Tellez-Alvarez, a revenue department special investigator, was used as a factor to remove McCune. Tellez-Alvarez, allowed to bring a young child to the office, said she recalled McCune yelling and pacing at work in mid-November. She said McCune apologized for the outburst, but Tellez-Alvarez said she feared for her child’s safety.
“He is a commissioned officer who has a weapon at hand and I fear that he will one day … react on impulse,” Tellez-Alvarez said in the email obtained by the Capital-Journal.
McCune said Tellez-Alvarez’ complaint didn’t make sense because she was in the office with her baby and McCune after the November episode. In addition, McCune said, nobody at the revenue department intervened to determine if McCune had an anger management problem.
McCune said he received no response to the Dec. 4 single-spaced, five-page letter to the Department of Administration detailing Gorman’s alleged improprieties. The revenue department attempted to block McCune’s unemployment claim, but the Kansas Department of Labor ruled on McCune’s behalf.
Despite a 37-year career in Kansas law enforcement, McCune said his firing would harm prospects of finding a new job in the field. McCune said his dismissal also sent a message to state employees that they could endure Gorman in silence or deal with retaliation from Gorman’s allies.
“My biggest concern is for the people still there,” McCune said. “They’re scared.”
While not capable of commenting directly about the situation involving Gorman, workplace management professionals agreed holding wrongdoers accountable for their actions was important on individual and organizational levels.
“Taking action to correct or punish bad behavior is at least as important, if not more important, for those who observe the correction or punishment as it is for the person being punished,” said Niki den Nieuwenboer, assistant professor of organizational behavior and business ethics at the University of Kansas.
She said ignoring violations of an organization’s rules and regulations could have a ripple effect.
“It may also make it less likely that they will continue to report questionable behavior in the future,” den Nieuwenboer said. “In addition to creating situations that people deem unfair, people might also be inspired by perpetrators of bad conduct and start engaging in it themselves.”
She said organizations had an obligation to educate employees on norms and rules of conduct. For example, she said, training can help people see how failed attempts at humor might underlie improper behavior.
Wendy Doyle, president and chief executive officer of the Women’s Foundation in Kansas City, Mo., said sexual harassment in civic spaces, particularly in government, served to disempower women. She said training to demonstrate how to avoid unprofessional or unethical conduct was imperative.
She said there were benefits to having independent, outside legal counsel perform sexual harassment inquiries.
“This is not a partisan issue and it is not unique to Kansas,” Doyle said. “Sexual harassment is a widespread epidemic, especially in male-dominated workplaces, and it’s urgent that we solve it.”