By JOHN BURNETT
Tribune-Herald staff writer
A former state parks employee on the Big Island has filed a sexual harassment and sex discrimination lawsuit against the Department of Land and Natural Resources and her former supervisor.
The civil suit, seeking unspecified general and punitive damages plus back pay and employee benefits, was filed Monday in Honolulu Circuit Court by Honolulu attorney Elizabeth Jubin Fujiwara on behalf of Hailama-Ana Tromba of Kohala. According to the complaint, Clayton Oshiro, who was Tromba’s supervisor at Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area between 2007-2009, made frequent unwanted sexual advances, grabbed Tromba’s buttocks, had sexual liaisons with his mistress at a park cabin on state time, and showed pornography to his work crew, making lewd comments for all to hear.
The filing also claims that after two years of harassment, Tromba, now 50, reported Oshiro’s behavior to his supervisor, Luisa Castro, that Tromba found herself disciplined afterward, and that Oshiro received only a five-day suspension for what Fujiwara described as “misogynistic, outrageous, malicious conduct.”
“She’s been through a lot of stress, sleepless nights and nightmares. It’s taken a few years for her to feel normal again,” Fujiwara said Thursday about her client. “I have been doing these cases since 1986 and I find this is one of most disgusting ones that I’ve handled.”
According to the filing, Tromba went to work as a general laborer at Hapuna on Aug. 16, 2007, and from Day 1, she was “continually subject to extreme sexual harassment” by Oshiro and co-worker Simplicio “Junior” Carpio, who is not a defendant in the lawsuit.
The suit claims the harassment was witnessed by co-worker Benjamin Rivera, who allegedly saw Oshiro grab Tromba’s buttocks. The suit claims Hailama said, “What the f—- are you doing?” to Oshiro and he “just looked at (her) and laughed.”
The suit also claims Oshiro told Rivera that he had taken Tromba to a private room in the Double Dare pornography shop in Kona and that he “got her already,” which Rivera took to mean Oshiro was saying he had sex with Tromba at the porno shop.
“He was retaliated against for defending her,” Fujiwara said.
The suit claims after Tromba and Rivera complained about Oshiro’s alleged misconduct, he began to work them and another employee “like dogs,” forcing her to clean cabins and transport all equipment by hand rather than using a golf cart the park had for that purpose. It also alleges she was transferred by Castro to “no man’s land,” the secluded, 262-acre Lapakahi State Park, to work alone with no land line or cell phone reception, but she was still required to report each morning to Oshiro.
Fujiwara said her client had taken an extended stress leave from work in December 2009 and filed a discrimination complaint with the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission on March 8, 2010.
“We just asked for right to sue. They took forever to investigate and they never found one way or another,” Fujiwara said.
The suit states that on Aug. 5 this year, DLNR told her that if she wanted to continue employment “you shall report to Luisa Castro at the Hapuna Beach State Recreation Area on Aug. 22, 2013.”
“That awful man Oshiro was still there and so was Carpio,” Fujiwara said. “We basically told them she would not return. We call it constructive discharge. She was forced to terminate herself.”
Fujiwara said Tromba is now working at a nursery and that she and Rivera are in a relationship. She said Rivera also filed a worker’s compensation claim, which DLNR denied, as well as a discrimination complaint with the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission. She said Rivera is also preparing to sue DLNR.
“I think what’s going on on the Big Island is that a lot of times, people aren’t aware of the laws and they don’t feel like they need to be implemented,” Fujiwara said. “We hope that the DLNR will learn from this that they need to closely supervise their supervisors at all levels and they need to instruct their supervisors that their women employees are humans.”
Asked what she felt would be a fair settlement or jury award, Fujiwara replied: “Just looking at stress over a two-year period, I would think $250,000 a year would be nice.”
“I think on the Big Island there’s a problem with employees, even though the central government may have trained the supervisors, because of the distance and the isolation and the ‘no man’s land’-type of experience on the Big Island,” she said. “A lot of supervisors feel they can do whatever they want with their workers and get away with it. And in this case, Mr. Oshiro got away with only five days suspension.”
DLNR spokeswoman Deborah Ward said Thursday the department had not been served with the lawsuit and would not be able to comment at this time.
Email John Burnett at firstname.lastname@example.org.