Former Democratic Party executive director wins jobless benefits

cjarvis@newsobserver.comSeptember 20, 2012 

— Jay Parmley, who resigned as executive director of the N.C. Democratic Party in April after a staffer accused him of sexual harassment, is entitled to unemployment benefits, an appeals referee for the state Division of Employment Security has ruled.

Parmley’s resignation was forced, which amounted to a discharge, and was “solely due to political reasons” and not for misconduct or poor job performance, Mia Bass ruled Monday.

The ruling followed a hearing on Aug. 30 that Democratic Party Chairman David Parker attended, along with Parmley and Parmley’s attorney, William Webb of Raleigh. The decision reversed an initial determination that Parmley was disqualified from receiving weekly benefits of $522.

The controversy began when a staffer, Adriadn Ortega, was fired last November. Ortega filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and wrote a letter to the Democratic Party saying he was fired in retaliation for making a sexual-harassment complaint against Parmley.

Ortega and the party reached a confidential settlement, but word leaked out in April, leading to Republican charges of a cover-up. Parmley denied the accusation but resigned.

Parker called a news conference and defended Parmley, saying he had looked into the matter and determined Parmley had acted in a friendly, nonsexual manner that didn’t constitute harassment. In June, Ortega sued the Democratic Party for defamation.

The referee in Parmley’s unemployment benefits appeal noted that Parker thought it best that Parmley be discharged, “due to the highly political environment in which the employer operates.” Parker gave Parmley the option to resign, but Bass determined it was a forced resignation.

State law disqualifies former employees from benefits if they are discharged for misconduct, which is defined as deliberately violating or disregarding standards of behavior that an employee has the right to expect. Or, employees can be disqualified if they were discharged for substantial fault, defined as acts or omissions that don’t rise to the level of misconduct.

Bass determined Parmley wasn’t discharged for those reasons, but for political purposes only. Bass also found that Parker’s investigation determined Parmley had not sexually harassed another employee.

Kieran Shanahan, Ortega’s attorney in the defamation lawsuit against the Democratic Party, said Thursday that the ruling in the unemployment appeal had no bearing on his case.

Jarvis: 919-829-4576

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