A federal jury has concluded the state and its Transportation Department’s airports division discriminated against a former employee by not doing enough to stop her from being sexually harassed by a co-worker.
The federal Justice Department in its lawsuit said the explosives detection canine handler was subjected to sexual harassment when she worked at Honolulu International Airport.
The lawsuit claims a male co-worker grabbed and hugged the canine handler, called her “sexy” and referred to her as his “brown baby.” The jury says the employer didn’t take appropriate steps to change the situation, despite complaints about the male co-worker’s conduct.
The jury on Monday awarded the employee $38,000 to compensate her for pain and suffering. The Justice Department is asking Hawaii to review its sexual harassment policies, complaint procedures and training programs for its employees.
“This jury’s verdict sends a loud message and a clear reminder that we will continue to effectively combat sex-based discrimination whenever it occurs in a public sector workplace,” attorney Vanita Gupta, head of the civil rights division at the Justice Department, said in a statement.
The harassment began as early as 2008, when the former employee and co-worker were employed by a private company contracted by the defendants, the Justice Department said in a news release. The conduct continued when both employees were hired by the state of Hawaii, they said.
The former employee originally filed her sexual harassment charge with the Honolulu office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
“Sexual harassment remains a significant problem for our nation’s workforce,” said Jenny Yang, chairwoman of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in a statement. “This verdict serves as a reminder to employers that they must remain vigilant in preventing and remedying harassment in their workplace.”
A spokesman for Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.