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Thursday, June 8, 2000

Isle reps decry
Army handling of
Tripler sex case

Nurses who accused their
boss complain of fear, hostility
and retaliation

By Gregg K. Kakesako


U.S. Reps. Neil Abercrombie and Patsy Mink say they are not satisfied with the Army's action involving a Tripler Army Medical Center nursing supervisor removed from his job after more than a dozen nurses charged him with sexual harassment.

Three civilian and two military nurses say Tripler's command, led by Maj. Gen. Nancy Adams, has retaliated by making the work environment more hostile than it was before the sexual harassment investigation began last summer.

Last year, 12 nurses accused Lt. Col. Michael Robey, who then supervised Tripler's operating room, of repeatedly making lewd and sexually off-color remarks. The nurses said Robey also said he expected sexual favors for good job-performance reviews.

In September, Robey was given a letter of reprimand by Adams, the Army's only two-star female nurse, and transferred to another position at Tripler despite pleas from the nurses that he be transferred away from Hawaii.

Now Sheryl Mathieu, Jane Cook, Patti Phromosin, Patsy Morris and Vicki Schnackle have filed complaints with the Army's equal employment opportunity office charging Tripler with discrimination, harassment and creating a hostile work environment.

The nurses say that even after Robey was assigned to another department, they still are forced to have daily contact with him and that they are physically fearful of him.

Cook said that Robey was allowed to lead two deployments to South Korea and another exercise at Schofield Barracks where several of the nurses who filed the original sexual harassment complaint were forced to work under his supervision.

The nurses also have sought protection from the Army's staff judge advocate's office and complained to Tripler's civilian personnel office and civilian advisory board.

In a May 20 letter to Army Secretary Louis Caldera, Rep. Patsy Mink asked "Why are the nurses being victimized again? Verbal advisories by the administration that Lt. Col Robey would not have contact with the operating nursing staff are not true."

Mink said the nurses' requests for leave have been denied, temporary duty assignments have been canceled, their desk drawers have been rifled and some were given "cumbersome duties."

One nurse said she was told to fold 900 towels in Robey's department. Another nurse said Robey followed her through an Air Force exchange.

Margaret Tippy, Tripler spokeswoman, said Adams was out of town and unavailable for comment. Tippy also maintained that none of the nurses "has reported any retaliation to the command."

Tippy also said that because of the EEO investigation, Tripler cannot comment.

But in December, Mathieu, a civilian nurse, told Col. Kathleen Roehr, deputy commander for nursing, after Robey had been reprimanded, that the nurses were concerned for their personal safety in being required to work near Robey.

As far as Adams, who will be leaving Tripler this month, is concerned, Tippy said: "We had a problem. We dealt with it. Some of the people still aren't happy with it."

Mike Slackman, Abercrombie aide, said the congressman "is most concerned about the allegations of retaliation against the nurses who complained."

"What is most worrisome is that the nurses were put into a situation where they have to be in close proximity to Lt. Col. Robey," Slackman said.

In April, Adams told the Star-Bulletin she didn't transfer Robey to another post because she believed that it "could be interpreted as passing on my problem to another command and indeed a reward for his misconduct."

But the nurses are wondering why the Army, which says it has a zero tolerance for sexual harassment, is allowing Robey, who has a history of sexual harassment, to retire in July with full military pension.

An Army internal report in July 1999 said Robey made similar inappropriate sexual comments in 1995 while stationed at Fort Huachuca in Arizona.

E-mail to City Desk

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