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Jury finds state didn’t do enough to stop sexual harassment at airport

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    Baggage Claim at Honolulu International Airport in Honolulu on Wednesday, December 16, 2015.

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.

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  • She gets $38,000 because somebody called her hugged her and called her “sexy” and referred to her as his “brown baby.”Am I missing something here?

    • There was probably a lot more that didn’t get reported in this story.

      (1)I have been unlucky and had adumb @ss that should know better WAIT for me to arrive at work, leave for lunch or pau hana and I had to change my schedule to avoid HIM.
      (2)At every unlucky-for-me encounter, ask me something personal – where do I live, what does my husband do, “you look so fit, how do you exercise”
      (3)Show up in the #*@! stairwell because I don’t want to get trapped in the elevator with him

      It all seems benign but it isn’t. And I was told I have to tell him to stop it before I can make a complaint.
      I would tell my moke-husband but when he pounds this guy – who will get in trouble?

      So don’t ask “Am I missing something here?”

  • Here we go… all airport workers will have to sit through hours of inane, “politically correct” sexual harassment awareness training classes because of one numbskull.

    • She got only $38,000.00. State should have offered her more, sign a non-disclosure agreement and sent her on her way. Now they will have to come up with procedure, policy, and training, all which will cost way more than the $38,000.00.

    • Makes you wonder if he’s going to get the pink slip or HGEA is going to stand behind this numbskull and will be able to keep his position. Another state ineptness at the REAL TAXPAYER’s expense.

      • Incident involved private contractors working under a State contract handling Federal K9 assets. The private company eventually lost the contract because the handlers staged a sick out. This angered the Feds, forced the airport authorities to hire or contract out to another agency. Department of Public Safety took the contract via Sheriff’s Deputy Dept. This might have an impact on all entities working under a State contract. I think the private company settled with the handler privately….no mention of it’s name in the article yet has other State contracts. They hire people from another country because most are stupid, use to paying off superviors for better postions or hours. They also have no criminal history here in US.

      • Well, far too often it’s easier to victim blame a female than to deal with the perp when it’s a sexual crime.

        See THOS for how to completely relieve a male criminal from their acts and entirely blame a female victim for the crime. But apparently he refuses to assign this logic to theft.

    • Every City and County worker is required to attend sexual harassment training. I suspect the reasons for the training include (1) to promote a workplace free of sexual harassment; (2) to protect the employer (the City), from claims that they were negligent in not promoting an work environment free of sexual harassment; and (3) to allow the employer to discepline or terminate an employee for sexual harassment without having to deal with an employee’s defense of not knowing he/she was violating a sexual harassment policy. There is NOTHING “politically correct” about sexual harassment training. Many private sector enterprises do conduct mandatory sexual harassment training for the sam reasons above. The State needs to do the same.

  • Corrective action should be swift. Fire the employee who caused the lawsuit by abusing the female employee. Demote or fire the supervisor of the negligent, abusive employee for willfully failing to do their job.

    Sad to say the state is always lackadaisical when it comes to holding employees and supervisors accountable for their willful violation of the laws. Sticking taxpayers with the bill. In this case the fine should come out of the operational budget of the responsible agency. Let them figure out how to make up the shortfall.

    • Must be nearly Christmas, I agree with Local. There is just no reason for any employee to feel that their workplace is a hostile environment. One of the problems with working as an administrator in a government entity is how convoluted the process is for taking timely corrective action.

      • They were removed regarding contractors, not because of the this incident. Contractor’s staged a sick out….pissed the Feds off, as the K9 assets sat idol. Changed rules for ty the Federal partnerships between State, Feds, and private contractors.

    • Should happen, but apparently we have too many people in power like THOS who believe and advocated that victims of sexual assault and harassment are the criminals themselves and those who sexually assault and harass haven’t done anything wrong.

      Hence why it takes a court case for things to stop. Poor leadership at the top with seriously terrible beliefs of victim blaming.

      • Agree. I’m not sure if it’s fear of making waves, laziness or just trying to fit into some perverse workplace culture that causes those in charge to often blame the victims. One thing for sure is that culture has to change at many of these places.

  • I have also filed discrimination charges against a DOE school located in Kalihi for not hiring me – reason was I did not fit into their school culture. The panel selected someone else who did. I’m still waiting since 2013 for my case to be heard. It is so sad for people to have to go through things like this. I have been with the DOE for 19 years and the school that I applied to would have been a promotion. What a shame the State of Hawaii is.

  • Many of these laws to protect females are turned around by them in retaliation. Jury has to listen to all of the evidence, the evidence that was not presented, and look between the lines, too. No an easy task.

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