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Military pays to settle sexual misconduct claims by civilian employees

by | May 14, 2014 | Firm News

The military in Hawaii has paid out hundreds of thousand of dollars to settle sexual misconduct complaints filed by civilian workers.

A Hawaii New Now review of recent cases includes a $220,000 settlement paid for by the Navy after a female worker alleged she was slapped her on the buttocks and grabbed her breast and crotch by a sergeant. The alleged sex assault occurred in during an assignment in Laos.

“It was shocking. It’s not something you ever expect to happen. It was amazing to have something like that happen in public,” said the woman.

Victims’ advocate Ben Toyama said the military’s handling of the case was equally troublesome.

“Following that the senior management of the command began to harass this lady, take reprisals actions, didn’t promote her properly, wrote denigrating notes and pinned it to her door,” said Toyama, financial secretary of the Hawaii Federal Employees Metal Trades Council, which represents Pearl Harbor civilian employees.

Toyama said the retaliation extended to witnesses in the case, one of whom filed her own complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

“So last Christmas, they settled up and paid $65.000 to a second woman,” he said.

Navy officials had no comment.

Sexual assaults and harassment has been a major issue with the military for the past several years.

Earlier this month the Pentagon reported that sex assaults rose 50 percent in 2013. But what happens to civilian Department of Defense workers rarely gets reported and such cases are rarely fully investigated, advocates said.

“The big problem is that it’s covered up,” said attorney Elbridge Smith, who has handled a number of sexual harassment cases against the federal government.

“I think all federal agencies do that to some extent but the military seems extra careful not to want to have these things fully investigated.”

Many of the case are settled out of the public eye and the alleged perpetrators are rarely prosecuted criminally, Toyama said.

For instance, the sergeant who allegedly sexually abused the woman in Laos was allowed to transfer to a duty station of his choice, Toyama said.

“The biggest problem is that the predator walks away with a clean record for these settlements are no-fault settlements so these guys have a very, very clean record,” he said.

Toyama also cited the case of a Pearl Harbor female civilian employee who was allegedly harassed by a supervisor for more than a year.

The woman eventually received a $100,000 settlement but the harassment continued and the Navy later asserted that the command was not required to enforce the agreement, Toyama said. The EEOC later awarded another $100,000 to the woman.

According to Toyama, the military faces a number of additional harassment complaints. They include:

— One from a woman who allegedly received sexually explicit text messages and pornographic videos from a Navy Corpsman. The alleged perpetrator also served as the command’s “Sexual Assault Prevention Advocate. The Corpsman’s advocate duties were stripped from him but victim was terminated, Toyama said. A lawsuit is pending.

— An apprentice welder at Pearl Harbor, who was allegedly cornered an fondled by a supervisor. According to Toyama, the supervisor received a short suspension but returned to his former job where he continued to oversee the woman during her apprenticeship training.

— A male supervisor who allegedly rubbed against a female military member when she got up to use a photocopier. A subsequent investigation identified 12 other women who testified that the supervisor groped them or harassed them,” Toyama said.

Unions representing civilian DOD workers around the country are urging Congress to reform the way the military handles its sex assault and sex harassment investigations not just for active duty members but also for the military’s civilian workers.

Recent legislation aiming to take decision making authority of hands of the military chain of command has stalled in the Senate.

“The current chain of command approach has failed miserably … It is a failed policy that has been in place since Tailhook in 1991,” said Gregory Junemann, president of the International Federation of Professional & Technical Engineers, in testimony before Congress last year.

“Yet the pervasiveness of sexual assault and other crimes has only gotten worse.”

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