Effective Dispute Resolution for Employment Law and IP Disputes

City's New Harassment Law Stirs Action

By Pat Omandam

Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 1993

The city is averaging three complaints of sexual harassment each month as a result of a 1993 law that allows city workers to file informal or formal complaints of harassment against co-workers, says City Councilman Andy Mirikitani.
"This new law revealed an underlying problem in the government workplace which also exists in the private workplace as well," Mirikitani said.

So far, there have been 60 complaints of sexual harassment filed by city workers since the law was implemented by the Harris administration two years ago.
Of that amount, 10 are legitimate cases of harassment that have been forwarded to the city corporation counsel for litigation, Mirikitani said.

While details and outcomes of each complaint remain confidential, the figures show a need for continued training of city managers on the city's sexual harassment policy, considered one of the toughest in the nation, said Mirikitani, who authored the law.

Such training, he added, will help prevent costly and damaging cases such as the Clarissa Barta case. Barta claimed she was subjected to sexual harassment at the hands of nine fellow Honolulu police officers from 1989 to 1992. Earlier this month, she agreed to a $1.1 million out-of-court settlement with the city.

"This law represents a zero-tolerance policy against sexual harassment and is a major change from business as usual," Mirikitani said.

Protected under the law are city employees, those who do business with the city, lobbyists and others engaged in city activities, including members of the news media. The City Council in November 1993 unanimously approved the comprehensive law, which was implemented in August 1994 after Jeremy Harris was elected to complete the four-year mayoral term of Frank Fasi.

The law establishes a uniform sexual harassment policy for the city that defines harassment and outlines the rights and actions to be taken if such incidents occur.
And it encourages victims to file informal complaints if they want the harassment to stop but don't want to punish the offender. All investigations of complaints must be completed within 10 days by a team comprised of both genders.

The city has had a sexual harassment policy on the books since 1983. It was updated in 1988 and 1992, said city spokeswoman Carol Costa.

But those familiar with the new law say it is a model the rest of the nation should follow. Attorney Elizabeth Jubin Fujiwara, an expert in sexual harassment cases, said the ordinance sent a clear message to city workers that they would be protected from retaliation if they filed harassment complaints.

"Because of the previous lackadaisical attitude of the city administration toward the issues of sexual harassment, it was my opinion that many women did not bring charges because of fear of retaliation," she said.

Fujiwara praised the law for its strong points, such as barring a company from doing business with the city if it is found in violation of sexual harassment law. And she said the required annual training of city supervisors and managers helps clarify what is in "bad taste" and when it becomes a violation of someone's civil rights.

The city holds its next training session for managers Monday.

"A lot of men who were raised in the '50s, for example, are sometimes clueless as to what's offensive toward women, and in fact they think many things that they say are compliments. So that's why training is needed,"
Fujiwara said. "Once you have training, I would say most men are amazed at what they were doing and finally realized what the problem is and stopped doing it. I think most men would want to know what is not acceptable behavior. And once they know, they stop."

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RESOLUTION THROUGH MEDIATION

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Employment law, personal injury, and intellectual property mediator Elizabeth Jubin Fujiwara is an attorney licensed to practice in Hawaii. She is also a neutral fact-finder in employment law matters.