State reprimanded by judge over transgender settlement issues

The state got another rebuke Wednesday — this time from a judge — in a case about how a transgender employee was treated at work.

Always Investigating first brought the case to light earlier this year.

It all began in a dispute over what restroom the transgender worker should use at a Department of Public Safety office, where she’s worked for 10 years.

Banned from the women’s restroom and banished to an unmarked one just for her, Kelli Keawe filed a lawsuit, state civil rights complaint and a case with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission or EEOC.

She and the state agreed verbally in court in April to settle, but she says the written agreement that followed was a mismatch — wanting Keawe also to waive claims about more alleged retaliation and harassment from coworkers, including a second EEOC complaint she recently made.

The state filed a motion trying to get the court to make Keawe sign their written version of the April settlement, which had included some responses from Keawe’s attorney.

“They’re going to try to force the policy on me,” Keawe said. “Really uncomfortable, it’s being rammed down my throat.”

Trying to get a settlement signed, Deputy Attorney General Maria Cook told the judge at Wednesday’s hearing on the motion: “You want an iron clad settlement agreement to prevent any future litigation arising out of the very lawsuit that you attempted to settle.”

Keawe’s attorney, Peter Hsieh, told the judge it’s a flawed deal. “By redefining the period of settlement up to and including the date of execution of the agreement,” he said, “they were attempting to extinguish Ms. Keawe’s claims which arose after April 10 and that’s not fair.”

The judge sided with Keawe.

“What I hear the state saying and what I read is they want to sweep in that new EEOC charge into the terms of the settlement agreement, and that was not contemplated, that wasn’t entered into,” said judge Jeannette Castagnetti.

The parties have eight days to get it right or the judge says they’ll write it up together in court.

Keawe has been allowed to use the ladies room since the spring, but the EEOC is still pursuing more fixes to the differential treatment in the first place.

“The issue is simple,” said Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, who is on the board of Kulia Na Mamo, which advocates for transgender rights. “A settlement in Miss Keawe’s court case should have sent a clear message to those in her work environment that she is to be treated with dignity and respect.”

 

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