Sexual harassment lawsuit filed against state, airports division

Hawaii Dept. of Transportation
Hawaii Dept. of Transportation

A former Hawaii Dept. of Transportation employee is suing the state, alleging sexual harassment and retaliation, the Justice Department announced Monday.

The complaint was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii against the state of Hawaii and the Dept. of Transportation Airports Division.

The lawsuit alleges that during the plaintiff’s employment as a law enforcement canine handler, she was subjected to sexual harassment in the form of lewd and unwelcome comments, and also suffered intimidation by a co-worker. The complaint also alleges that the unwelcome conduct and intimidation began as early as 2009, when both the plaintiff and her co-worker were employed by a private company contracted to the defendants. After both plaintiff and the co-worker became employed by the state of Hawaii, the harassment and intimidation continued until her ultimate termination in 2012.

The suit further alleges that the co-worker confronted the plaintiff about her prior sexual harassment complaints and intimidated her after canine handler services were transferred to Hawaii. Despite timely complaints, the defendants failed to take reasonable steps to remedy the harassment. Instead, the defendants implemented an employment schedule that brought the plaintiff and her harasser into close contact. When she objected to the continued harassment and retaliation by other HDOT-Airports employees, including managers, her employment was terminated, the complaint says.

The plaintiff originally filed her sexual harassment and retaliation charges against HDOT-Airports with the Honolulu Field Office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which investigated the matters, determined that there was reasonable cause to believe that discrimination had occurred based upon sex and retaliation and referred the matters to the Department of Justice.

“Sex discrimination and retaliation in the workplace continue to be problematic — they’re a factor in 32 and 43 percent, respectively, of all EEOC charges filed in Hawaii,” said Timothy Riera, director for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Honolulu office.

The allegations represent a potential violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal statute that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex and religion, and prohibits retaliation against an employee who opposes an unlawful employment practice or against an employee who has made a charge or participated in an investigation, proceeding or hearing under the act.

Related Link: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Through this lawsuit, the United States seeks declaratory and injunctive relief requiring the defendants to develop and implement policies preventing their employees from being subjected to sexual harassment sex and retaliation, the department said. In addition, the United States seeks monetary damages for the plaintiff as compensation for the employers’ discriminatory actions.

The Hawaii Dept. of Transporation says it does not comment on pending litigation.

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