Embattled Head of Latino Business Group Steps Down

Posted February 12, 2018 10:35 p.m. EST

The head of a prominent Latino business organization is leaving his job amid allegations of financial impropriety and sexual harassment.

Late Monday, directors of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce announced that the group’s president and chief executive, Javier Palomarez, would step aside.

“After much deliberation and careful consideration for the future of the USHCC,” the board said, “Mr. Palomarez and the board of directors have mutually agreed to undergo a leadership transition for the organization effective immediately.”

The board made no mention of the allegations that have enveloped its chief executive, saying only that it was committed to “dignity, respect, and a careful stewardship of its financial resources.” The departure follows the board’s announcement Friday that it had hired an outside law firm to investigate “various allegations,” but did not offer details or specify who was the subject of the claims.

As part of the statement Monday, Palomarez said he was “extremely proud” of his tenure at the chamber, which calls itself the voice of 4.4 million Hispanic-owned businesses.

Palomarez, who has run the organization for close to a decade, was accused by a longtime board member in the 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, 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. Vaca declined to comment.

Palomarez was also accused of sexually harassing his former chief of staff, Gissel Gazek Nicholas. In an interview with The New York Times, 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 attempted 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.

A lawyer for Nicholas, who was fired from her job in November after eight years at the organization, has threatened to sue both Palomarez and the organization for sexual assault, sexual harassment, creating a hostile work environment and retaliation.

In his statement Friday, Palomarez said, “I categorically deny these deeply troubling allegations.”