Justice Department Files Lawsuit Against the State of Hawaii and the Hawaii Department of Transportation for Sexual Harassment and Retaliation
News Release from US Department of Justice
Washington, DC May 5, 2014. The Justice Department announced today the filing of a lawsuit against the state of Hawaii and the state of Hawaii Department of Transportation Airports Division (HDOT-Airports) alleging that the defendants discriminated against former employee Sherry Valmoja by subjecting her to sexual harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. According to the complaint, Valmoja complained to the defendants about the harassment and was then subjected to retaliation, also in violation of Title VII. Title VII is 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.
The complaint, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii, alleges that during Valmoja’s employment as a law enforcement canine handler, she was subjected to sexual harassment in the form of lewd and unwelcome comments. Valmoja also suffered intimidation by a co-worker. The complaint also alleges that the unwelcome conduct and intimidation began as early as 2009, when both Valmoja and her co-worker were employed by a private company contracted to the defendants; after both Valmoja and the co-worker became employed by the state of Hawaii, the harassment and intimidation continued until Valmoja’s ultimate termination in 2012.
The suit further alleges that the co-worker confronted Valmoja about her prior sexual harassment complaints and intimidated her after canine handler services were transferred to Hawaii. Despite timely complaints by Valmoja about her co-worker’s conduct, the defendants failed to take reasonable steps to remedy the harassment. Instead, the defendants implemented an employment schedule that brought Valmoja and her harasser into close contact. When Valmoja objected to the continued harassment and retaliation by other HDOT-Airports employees, including managers, her employment was terminated.
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. In addition, the United States seeks monetary damages for Valmoja as compensation for the employers’ discriminatory actions.
“The Justice Department is committed to the vigorous enforcement of all federal civil rights laws under its jurisdiction, including Title VII’s prohibition against sexual harassment and retaliation in the workplace,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels for the Civil Rights Division. “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.”
Valmoja 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. This lawsuit is brought by the department as a result of a project designed to ensure vigorous enforcement of Title VII against state and local governmental employers by enhancing cooperation between the EEOC and the Civil Rights Division.
“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 Director Timothy Riera for the EEOC’s Honolulu Local Office. “The EEOC is pleased to partner with the Department of Justice to ensure that employers appropriately address sex discrimination and promote work environments where employees are free to complain without fear of retribution.”
More information about Title VII and other federal employment laws is available at the division’s Employment Litigation Section website. The continued enforcement of Title VII is a priority of the Civil Rights Division. Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice is available on the division website.
The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the EEOC is available on its website.
PDF: U.S. v. State of Hawaii sex harassment lawsuit