DOJ Files Suit against Hawaii for Employee Sexual Harassment and Retaliation
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The U.S. Department of Justice announced this week the filing of a lawsuit against the state of Hawaii and its Department of Transportation Airports Division (HDOT-Airports) alleging discrimination against a former employee Sherry Valmoja. According to court documents, Valmoja was subjected to sexual harassment in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. When Valmoja complained, she was also subjected to retaliation in violation of Title VII.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibits retaliation against an employee who chooses to oppose any unlawful employment practice, or who has made a related charge or participated in any investigation or proceeding under the Act.
The complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Hawaii, alleging that during Valmoja's tenure as a law enforcement canine handler, she was subjected to sexual harassment in the form of unwelcome and lewd comments. She also suffered intimidation from a co-worker. According to the complaint, the intimidation by the co-worker began in 2009, when a private company contracted to the defendants employed Valmoja and the co-worker. Later both Valmoja and the co-worker became employees of the state of Hawaii, but her ordeals continued.
The harassment and intimidation ultimately led to Valmoja's termination in 2012. The lawsuit alleges that despite timely complaints by Valmoja about her co-worker's conduct, the defendants, rather than taking reasonable steps, implemented employment schedules that brought her into close contact with her harasser. When Valmoja objected, and complained to other employees and managers, her job was terminated.
While announcing the filing of the lawsuit, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division, Jocelyn Samuels said she hoped, "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 ."