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U.S. files sex harassment suit against Hawaii DOT

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    Honolulu International Airport.

The federal government is suing Hawaii and its Department of Transportation’s airports division, alleging the sexual harassment of a former airport K-9 handler.

The lawsuit filed Monday says the woman was sexually harassed by a co-worker at the Honolulu airport. The lawsuit alleges she was "grabbed and hugged" and that the male co-worker called her "sexy" and his "brown baby," along with other "unwelcome comments and sexual innuendos." According to the lawsuit, he stayed past his shift to see her, followed her and tried to start conversations with her.

The lawsuit claims the woman faced retaliation after filing complaints and her employers did nothing to stop the harassment.

"Instead, the defendants implemented an employment schedule that brought (the woman) and her harasser into close contact," the U.S. Department of Justice said in a news release. "When (she) objected to the continued harassment and retaliation by other HDOT-Airports employees, including managers, her employment was terminated."

Caroline Sluyter, a spokeswoman for the Department of Transportation, said the airports division won’t comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit says the harassment started in 2009 when the woman and the co-worker worked for a private contractor, and it continued when they later became state employees. She obtained a temporary restraining order in state court against the co-worker in 2010, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit seeks unspecified monetary damages and other remedies, including policies preventing sexual harassment and retaliation.

The woman originally filed her sexual harassment and retaliation charges with the Honolulu office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which investigated and determined there was reasonable cause and referred the case to the Department of Justice.

"This lawsuit should send a clear message that the department will take necessary action to eliminate and remedy the effects of unlawful sexual harassment in our public sector workplaces," said Jocelyn Samuels, acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Rights Division.

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