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Latino Business Group Leader Steps Down Amid Sexual Harassment Allegations

Javier Palomarez, shown here at an event in 2014, resigned amid allegations of sexual and financial misconduct.
Carolyn Kaster
Javier Palomarez, shown here at an event in 2014, resigned amid allegations of sexual and financial misconduct.

The head of a major Hispanic business association is stepping aside after allegations of improperly increasing his salary and sexual misconduct.

The United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce said president and CEO Javier Palomarez and its board of directors "have mutually agreed to undergo a leadership transition for the organization effective immediately," the organization said in a statement to NPR.

The statement did not refer to the allegations surrounding Palomarez, which were reportedMonday by The New York Times:

"Mr. Palomarez, who has run the organization for close to a decade, was accused by a longtime board member last fall of paying himself hundreds of thousands of dollars more than he was entitled to under his contract, according to minutes from the board's charitable foundation and a Texas court filing.

"In the Texas filing, Mr. Palomarez denied any financial impropriety. He said in a statement Friday that the claims against him sprang from a 'retaliatory effort' by Nina Vaca, the board member who flagged them first. Ms. Vaca declined to comment.

"Mr. Palomarez was also accused of sexually harassing his former chief of staff, Gissel Gazek Nicholas. In an interview with The New York Times, Ms. Nicholas said that at the end of a group meeting in a Chicago hotel suite in 2013, he asked her to stay behind after the others left, then asked if she had ever thought about 'being' with him and tried to kiss her. Her account was corroborated by an email she sent to a friend within hours of the incident and another friend in whom she confided afterward."

Nicholas was fired from her job at the organization in November, the Timesreports.

Palomerez did not immediately respond to a request for comment from NPR. He told the Times on Friday that, "I categorically deny these troubling allegations."

In the announcement from the USHCC, Palomerez said he was extremely proud of his tenure as president and CEO of the organization.

Representing Hispanic businesses "is a mission too important for distractions and internal division and so I look forward to working with the Board and staff over the coming weeks to put in place a leadership team that can inspire more in our community to build businesses and achieve the American dream," he said.

According to NBC News, Nicholas applauded the move by saying that the business organization had taken a "bold step forward and away from the leadership of Javier Palomarez." She added: "While the USHCC accomplished a great deal under his leadership, it came at a high cost to me personally, and, I believe, to the organization as well."

USHCC says it promotes 4.4 million Hispanic-owned businesses that contribute at least $700 billion annually to the U.S. economy. Palomerez previously worked at Sprint and Bank of America.

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Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.
Laurel Wamsley is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She reports breaking news for NPR's digital coverage, newscasts, and news magazines, as well as occasional features. She was also the lead reporter for NPR's coverage of the 2019 Women's World Cup in France.