The Obama administration’s Department of Justice said Monday that it would file a lawsuit against the state of Hawaii and Hawaii’s Department of Transportation Airports Division (HDOT Airports) over a sexual harassment case involving a former employee.
The lawsuit argues that HDOT-Airports subjected Sherry Valmoja to sexual harassment, and then retaliated against her when she complained.
According to the complaint, Valmoja was a law enforcement dog handler, and was “subjected to sexual harassment in the form of lewd and unwelcome comments. Valmoja also suffered intimidation by a co-worker.”
“When Valmoja objected to the continued harassment and retaliation by other HDOT-Airports employees, including managers, her employment was terminated.”
The complaint added that Valmoja suffered harassment while she was a contract worker and when she was employed by the state of Hawaii.
The DOJ said it it is seeking relief in the form of a requirement that Hawaii and HDOT-Airports must “develop and implement policies preventing their employees from being subjected to sexual harassment… and retaliation.” The federal agency also wants monetary damages for Valmoja.
“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,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General Jocelyn Samuels.
The suit is the result of Valmoja’s decision to file a claim with the Honolulu office of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which ultimately referred the matter to the Justice Department.
“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,” said Timothy Riera, director of the EECO’s Honolulu office.