Saturday, May 26, 2001

Hawaii State Seal

$4 million in
damages awarded
in Public Safety
discrimination suit

The jury agrees that male
supervisors treated two female
employees unfairly

By Debra Barayuga

A Circuit Court jury has handed down a $4.1 million award to plaintiffs in a gender discrimination suit filed against former and current supervisors at the Department of Public Safety.

The verdict reached yesterday brought to a partial close a May 1997 lawsuit filed by four women who worked under former Public Safety Director George Iranon, accusing him and other supervisors of discriminating against them on the basis of their gender.

Plaintiffs Faith Evans, Hawaii's first female U.S. marshal before she joined Public Safety; Sydney Zalopany, supervisor of Internal Affairs; Wendy Elkins, a narcotics enforcement investigator; and Dr. Kim Thorburn, hired in 1987 to bring the state's prisons in compliance with a federal consent decree, filed suit four years ago against the state, Iranon, Clayton Frank, Keith Kamita, Ed Howard, Rudy Alivado, Guy Hall and Eric Penarosa.

Wendy Elkins mug shot

Hall and Penarosa were dropped from the suit before the case went to trial.

Plaintiff attorney Michael Green said the jury's verdict sends a strong message that disparate treatment of women by men in the workplace will not be tolerated.

The plaintiffs were treated by male supervisors in ways that were "totally disgusting" and "outrageous," Green said. They swore at them, treated them like children and passed them over for promotions by selecting subordinates, he said.

According to the lawsuit, the women were denied training or overtime pay that similarly situated males received, and were subjected to retaliation when they reported improper conduct.

The jury found that Iranon and Frank had unlawfully discriminated and retaliated against Zalopany and that Howard and Kamita had discriminated against Elkins, both on the basis of their gender.

But the jury also rejected Thorburn's claims and were deadlocked on Evans' claims, causing Circuit Judge Gary Chang to declare a mistrial in her case.

Green said Evans' case is not over. "Faith Evans is going to have her day (in court)."

The jury awarded Zalopany $1.9 million, of which $1 million was for punitive damages. Elkins was awarded $2.8 million, of which $1.2 million was for punitive damages.

All the women wanted was to do their jobs, Green said.

They performed their jobs and even exceeded their employer's expectations. "All exceeded at the Department of Public Safety until the defendants took over."

But state attorneys portrayed the women as disgruntled employees who sued because they were not getting what they wanted.

Evans, Thorburg, Zalopany mug shots

"This is not a case about discrimination, but a case about disappointment," said Deputy Attorney General Gary Hynds in closing arguments.

He said Evans was disappointed because Gov. Ben Cayetano did not extend her job in state government long enough so she could be vested.

He said Thorburn wanted to continue being a professor at the University of Hawaii because with it came prestige and money, and she did not like the idea of having an in-house medical director or being ordered to do body cavity searches and release medical records.

He said Elkins was disappointed because she had to work under Howard, a former police officer, and follow regulations that were similar to those at the police department.

Zalopany was disappointed because former Director George Sumner offered her an administrative position in Internal Affairs, but after he left, Iranon did not give her the job, Hynds said.

Just because they did not get the best cars, were excluded from meetings or did not receive the types of training they wanted does not mean they suffered an adverse employment action -- one of the burdens the plaintiffs had to prove to establish sex discrimination, Hynds argued.

Training was denied on a rotational basis and because funds tapered off and promotions were controlled by the union and civil service regulations, not because of Iranon jerking them around, Hynds said. "The laws didn't allow him to do it."

Kamita and Howard deny ever making offensive comments about Elkins sleeping with other investigators, her physical anatomy or the way she dressed.

But the jury believed at least two of the women and made a "huge statement" by returning a $4.1 million judgment, Green said.

"Now it's up to the people who do the appointments as to whether or not they'll do something about men treating women differently in the workplace."

Defendants Iranon, Frank, Howard, Kamita and Alivado left the courthouse without comment.

At least two of the women said they are glad their "nightmare" is finally over and that they feel vindicated.

"It was actually very liberating being able to tell our story in court," said Zalopany, who has been in law enforcement for 26 years, the last 20 with Public Safety.

"We were definitely treated differently than 'the group' and excluded from 'the group,' and the group was men."

Elkins said she kept her mouth shut during her last four years in Narcotics Enforcement because she was too afraid to make waves. "This sends a message that now you don't have to tolerate this stuff and you don't have to shut your mouth, and I hope that women who succeed me don't have to take that kind of treatment."

Evans left the courthouse without comment. Thorburn, who now heads a medical program in Spokane, Wash., could not be reached for comment.

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