DON’T YOU WORRY YOUR PRETTY LITTLE HEAD ABOUT IT: The cesspool of sexual harassment in Kaua`i county government is nothing new to our readers.
But worse than the harassment itself and the retaliation, has been the utter lack of attention to the pervasive problem and indeed active attempts to make the growing list of complainants just go away.
Today the county council will, most likely, compound the problem by going into executive session to hear about the cases and then give the okay to the county attorney’s office to fight two of the more prominent lawsuits, those of “Kaua`i Bus” driver Kathleen M. Ah Quin and former Kaua`i Police Department dispatcher and then Liquor Department employee Kristan C. Hirakawa who now is known as Kristan C Suniga.
Also outstanding is the case of Margaret Hanson Sueoka who has filed a case with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as we exclusively detailed in June of 2009.
Ah Quin’s case, which we reported in December of 2008 remains the same but Suniga case- which we exhaustively detailed in December of 2009- originally filed in federal district court, has now moved to state circuit court.
And while the original case alleged one of the more nauseating tales of harassment and retaliation – in two different jobs no less- and told of a distinct lack of interest on the part of the county, the new case is, if possible, even more unsettling with details of harassment by the county attorney’s office front and center.
Suniga’s story of harassment began in KPD where she won a different suit and as a result she was moved to the Liquor Department where it didn’t just continue but escalated under her boss Dexter Shimatsu.
Yet that was only the beginning.
According to the suit:
Instead of investigating and remedying Plaintiffs sexual harassment claim, the County instead protected the accused supervisor, Shimatsu, by offering no remedial action to Plaintiff and. failing to conduct even a basic investigation for several months. The County failed to conduct an unbiased investigation to this day.
That’s where the much maligned county attorney’s office came into the picture and, the suit alleges, it compounded the already outrageous treatment of Suniga.
The suit goes on to say:
In many cases, County policy directs employees to report allegations of sexual harassment to the Office of the County Attorney, which is charged with allegedly overseeing an unbiased investigation of the matter. Thus, the Office of the County Attorney is responsible both for the Human Resource function of ensuring independent investigations of complaints of sexual harassment for the protection of county employees, while at the same time the Office of the County Attorney must defend the County against claims of improper sexual harassment in the workplace. In Plaintiff's case, the Office of the County Attorney did not make good on the County's promise of a fair investigation and appropriate corrective action, but instead the Office of the County Attorney, in 2007, used its position of trust and responsibility to investigate Plaintiffs complaint of sexual harassment in an adversarial manner, designed to minimize liability to the County by casting doubt on Plaintiff's character and allegations. 28. In August of 2007, the County contacted Plaintiff and informed her that the County Would conduct a sex) harassment/hostile work place investigation based on Plaintiff's allegations. The County offered Plaintiff the choice of one of three investigators, without disclosing their relative training and experience investigating sexual harassment claims.
Given no information as to each proposed investigator's background, Plaintiff chose Ann Wooton ("Wooton") based on the fact that Wooton was the only female investigator offered by the County.
Wooton is a county-employed grant writer/social worker, with no prior training or experience in sexual harassment investigations. The Office of the County Attorney oversaw an investigation into Plaintiff's complaints that was so biased that the investigator did not even ask Shimatsu the most basic questions such as if he had sent the sexually harassing emails and memoranda Based on this sham of an investigation, Wooton then concluded the investigation by finding, among other things, that Plaintiff's allegations could not be substantiated due to a lack of evidence.
The suit alleges that it took two months for Wooton to even interview Suniga and that even though she was entitled to the results of the investigation under the state’s open records law, “the Office of the County Attorney remarkably responded that the investigation would not be produced because, inter alia, it was prepared in anticipation of litigation”.
As if that wasn’t enough the next episode described in the suit was truly frightening
In the fall of 2008, an unknown individual or individuals hacked into Plaintiffs financial accounts, social networking accounts and various retail merchant accounts. The hacker made unauthorized purchases on Plaintiff's credit cards, and created and posted documents and web-pages online that falsely suggested that Plaintiff was not unable to work for Defendant, but that she was instead making significant money by moonlighting or working for the private sector while she claimed to be suffering from a hostile workplace at the Liquor Department. The hacker(s) took various actions with regard to Plaintiff's accounts, which appear to be designed so as to discredit Plaintiffs claims against the County.
Plaintiff reported the series of unauthorized hacks into her accounts and expenditures on her credit cards to the Kauai Police Department However, on information and belief, the Kauai Police Department (the defendant in Plaintiff's former case) took a report, but otherwise has done nothing to investigate or solve Plaintiff's reports of identity theft. Thereafter, the County sought to use the fabricated documents manufactured by the hacker(s) against Plaintiff.
The suit’s narrative sums up Suniga’s situation by saying:
The County, through the actions of supervisor Shimatsu, the Office of the County Attorney in managing the response to Plaintiffs complaints, and the Kauai Police Department in refusing to respond to her police report, has left Plaintiff, a single mother of two, in a precarious financial position. Plaintiff's mental and physical health has suffered due to the County's action and inactions.
Plaintiff remains unable to resume working in direct contact with Shimatsu.
The aforesaid events have changed the course of Plaintiff's life and career.
Plaintiff has complied with the administrative procedural requirements for maintaining a civil action for discrimination on the basis of sex for retaliation under Haw. Rev. Stat. § 378 et. seq. Plaintiff dual filed the aforesaid charges with the United States EEOC and the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission ("HCRC"). The EEOC made a determination of cause to believe that the alleged sexual harassment occurred. On March 17, 2010 the HCRC issued Plaintiff the notice of right to sue.
On November 13, 2008, the EEOC found that "The Commission's investigation determined that there is reasonable cause to believe that Charging Party was subjected to sexual harassment because of her sex, female."
Plaintiff timely filed this action within 90 days of issuance of her right to sue letter from the HCRC issued on March 17, 2010.
The County retaliated against Plaintiff by: 1) having the Office of the County Attorney direct an incomplete and inadequate investigation into Plaintiff's complaint of sexual harassment; 2) the Kauai Police Department's failure to investigate Plaintiff's complaint that someone hacked into Plaintiffs financial accounts and misappropriated her image and personal accounts; and 3) failing to timely promote Plaintiff from Trainee to Investigator I despite Plaintiff receiving "More Than Satisfactory" ratings from Shimatsu.
Tomorrow, in granting the county attorney’s request for more money to fight rather than settle the two suits, the council will no doubt be adding another misdeed to the list.
We’re taking tomorrow off and possibly taking a long weekend although we may get to post something Friday. If not we’ll be back Monday.