Jury: Hawaii Condoned Harassment of Bomb Detection Canine Handler at Honolulu Airport

Rarely does an entire state government condone discrimination against an employee, but according to the U.S. Department of Justice that’s what the state of Hawaii did regarding the sexual harassment of a female former employee of the state’s Highway Department of Transportation’s Airports Division.

DOJ sued the state last year under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act on behalf of Sherry Valmoja, who it said was subjected to sexual harassment during her employment as an explosives detection canine handler at the Honolulu International Airport.

According to the DOJ, Valmoja was subjected to sexual harassment in the form of lewd and unwelcome comments and physical intimidation by a co-worker.  The unwelcome conduct and intimidation began as early as November 2008, when both Valmoja and her co-worker were employed by a private company that contracted with the defendants.  After both Valmoja and the co-worker became employed by the State of Hawaii, the harassment and intimidation continued, the lawsuit charged.

Despite timely complaints by Valmoja about her co-worker’s conduct, the defendants failed to take prompt and effective action to remedy the harassment, which continued until March 2011 and created an abusive and hostile working environment, DOJ said.

To compensate her for the pain and suffering she endured because of the harassment, the jury awarded Valmoja $38,000. Decisions about additional injunctive relief are still pending; the department has asked for a permanent injunction prohibiting the state of Hawaii from discriminating against its employees, review and revision of defendants’ sexual harassment policies and complaint procedures and training for its employees on discrimination.

Read more about the lawsuit and the jury’s findings.

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