For the past decade, Loren Parks, the Daddy Warbucks of Oregon conservative causes who has spent heavily to shape this year's Republican gubernatorial primary, has successfully guarded his personal privacy.
That armor of secrecy was pierced last week, however, when a former employee filed a federal sexual-harassment lawsuit alleging proclivities bizarre even in the context of Parks' well-documented eccentricity.
The suit is filed by Maria Guerin, who spent four years working as a translator at Parks Medical Electronics Inc., which was founded by Parks in 1963. The company, which employs about 50 people, sells electronic equipment that measures blood flow, most notably a penile plethysmograph, which senses male sexual arousal.
On Nov. 23, 2001, Guerin, 56, filed a complaint against Parks with the Oregon Bureau of Labor & Industries. Her complaint, which forms the basis of last week's lawsuit, claims the 75-year-old Aloha inventor pressured her into having sex with him while accompanying him on overseas trips and sent her and other employees frequent emails bearing graphic sexual images, statements and jokes.
The BOLI complaint presented an awkward conflict for Jack Roberts, the gubernatorial candidate who heads that state agency. At the time one of his investigators was looking into the allegations against Parks, Roberts was working with a consultant, Gregg Clapper, to get Parks to fund a campaign against rival Ron Saxton. (See "See Jack Sling," page 11).
Roberts says he did not know about the BOLI complaint until WW requested it last week. In the end, he never had to act on the BOLI complaint because, on Feb. 20, Guerin's attorneys withdrew it, instead pursuing the case in federal court.
Kevin Mannix, the third major GOP candidate, also has been ensnared in the drama. In her BOLI complaint, Guerin claims that in July 2001, Parks summoned her to meet "his friend, Kevin Mannix. While introducing me to Mannix, Parks looked up and down my body in a lewd manner." Mannix's campaign received $50,000 from Parks, and he briefly represented Parks in defending him against Guerin's BOLI claim. Mannix said he could not comment on the complaint because of his attorney-client relationship with Parks.
The federal lawsuit includes many of the same claims as the BOLI complaint. Although there is no accusation that Parks used physical force or directly threatened Guerin's job, she told a BOLI investigator that she felt pressured to have sex with him because she saw how a female co-worker who previously spurned Parks' advances was ostracized in the workplace. Guerin said Parks, an uncertified hypnotherapist, "was trying to brainwash her into being his sexual and travel companion," according to the BOLI complaint.
The lawsuit says that Parks and Guerin first had sex during a June 1999 cruise in the Baltic Sea, where Guerin "submitted to Parks' sexual advances out of fear for her safety and her job."
In response to the BOLI complaint, Parks' lawyers said Guerin's claims were fictional. They also produced a bizarre document--characterized as a "contract to have a sexual relationship"--that Guerin purportedly signed prior to the Baltic cruise. "We will be sleeping together on the trip for our mutual pleasure," the statement reads. "Neither of us is obligated to continue an intimate relationship following the trip. All this has been discussed with my supervisor, Claudine Gilmore."
Guerin, in her lawsuit, claims that subsequent to her departure from the firm in November 2001, "Parks placed false documents" in her personnel file, including the "alleged release of liability." Both sides, however, agree that the on-again, off-again sexual relationship continued until the winter of 2000, when Guerin says she refused to accompany Parks on any more trips.
The suit also claims Parks sent repeated emails to Guerin and her co-workers bearing "sexually explicit jokes, pornographic materials, misogynist humor, and graphic photographs of deformed female sexual organs and female amputations." Guerin submitted several of those emails to BOLI to support her complaint.
Guerin claims that after she stopped sleeping with Parks in the winter of 2000, he retaliated by severely scrutinizing her work and "encouraging...coworkers to fabricate customer complaints" about her. She also claims he sent her "graphic, threatening e-mails." One email sent to Guerin in February 2001 tells her, in Spanish, to wear a bra that clips in the front, because his continued friendship is contingent upon "accesso a sus tetas"--access to her breasts. In another email Parks refers to himself as a "viejo sucio," or "dirty old man."
Parks declined to comment, but Clapper, his consultant and friend, said Parks "very rarely" dates his employees. Clapper thinks Guerin was unhappy after Parks got back together with an ex-girlfriend. "They had a consensual relationship; now she's trying to shake him down," Clapper said.
Guerin's attorneys, Shelley Russell and Craig Crispin, declined WW's request for an interview. In a prepared statement, they said, "Our client brings this action to stop Parks' conduct from continuing to injure his multiple victims in the same manner as she was harmed. She seeks the chance to ask a jury to examine the sexual conduct directed toward her by Parks and decide whether those acts exceeded all bounds of our community standards and of social toleration, as we believe it did."
Crispin added that the timing of the suit was dictated not by politics, but by an impending legal deadline after which Guerin's right to sue would have expired. "We don't care about the Republican side of things at all," he said. "If we'd have had a political motive we probably would have waited until the general election."
Parks has always been something of a political wild card. He first came to prominence in the early '90s when he worked with other GOP funders to bankroll the campaigns of state legislative candidates. Of the group, Parks seemed the least driven by partisan ideology, teaming up with Mannix when the former state legislator was still a Democrat.
In the past 12 years, Parks and his nonprofit, the Loren Parks Foundation, have contributed more than $1.2 million to conservative leaders and causes, according to Janice Thompson of the Money in Politics Research Action Project.
Last week's lawsuit isn't the first time that Parks' libido landed him in court. In 1983 he was sued by a woman, described in her own court filings as "somewhat retarded," who said Parks had sex with her when she approached him seeking treatment using his hypnotherapy. Parks has long moonlighted as a sex therapist, boasting on his website, parksmed.com/psych, that he can hypnotize women into becoming "sex machines." Parks settled with the woman in 1986, acknowledging that they'd had a sexual relationship.
Editor's note: Guerin's BOLI complaint and federal lawsuit can be read at www.wweek.com.