Editor’s Note: This Community Voice was written after the author read Civil Beat’s story on the state paying a settlement in a workplace harassment lawsuit. Read the story: It’s Your Money: Hawaii Owes $60,000 in Harassment Suit.

People complain about the waste of taxpayers dollars in “frivolous” litigation. Well, $60,000 is but a drop in the bucket in what the DOT paid out on just this one incident.

What most don’t realize is that the complainants in this particular case more than likely did not each take home a $30,000 windfall as their legal fees overall probably far exceeded their awards. There are court costs, deposition costs, lawyer fees, etc. that would eat up the paltry amounts they are set to receive.

Also, from what I read about the amount of money the Governor has requested to settle cases that are already waiting in the wings to be paid out, will they even see any of that money in this fiscal year? What the taxpayers also don’t realize is that they paid for the defense of Ms. Matsuoka and the state departmental (DOT) deputy directors at a much higher financial amount. If there were measures/remedies legislatively in place, the government would not be incurring these expenses.

It is very unfortunate that violence, bullying, and verbal harassment is prevalent in all places of employment. It’s what management chooses to do that determines the outcome. If upper management had done their jobs in the first place in protecting the rights of the employees in this case of workplace violence, things would never have gotten to the point where the employees/victims were forced to find some other method of resolution.

They had to go to the lengths of filing a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) in order to ensure the safety of not just themselves, but that of others they worked with who were too afraid to do anything about what had been going on in the office for way too long. But even that wasn’t sufficient, as was evidenced by the offending party having been returned to the office and her position of management over the very people she was supposed to be restrained from having proximity to while the TRO was still in effect. Once again, management and DOT failed to do their duty in prevention of workplace violence, showing no concern for the employees by subjecting them to possible further harm and acts of retribution, bringing about the ensuing lawsuit.

If there had been a law on the books that would have given victims a third party entity to turn to for investigation and resolution, there might not have been a lawsuit. Ms. Jinbo and Ms. Wolfe did not fall under the protected class of race, color, religion, sex (including pregnancy), national origin, age (40 or older), disability or genetic information in the circumstances of this particular case. They were not protected under the law.

From reading what Ms. Wolfe posted in her comments, they were up against management who seemed to be supporting the supervisor against the complaints of numerous (more than just the two) persons. It is inconceivable that they would put Ms. Matsuoka back into the office in deference to displacing five people who had many years in the personnel office. With their departure, the office then became inefficient, and a wealth of knowledge and experience went with them. The result of that loss was the effective crippling not only of that office’s functionality, but that of other departments within the DOT that depended upon the support of that office to fulfill their employment needs/requirements, the financial rippling effects of which are still being felt to-date. Apparently this entire debacle keeps adding up the financial burden being supported by the government in ways that most aren’t even aware of or consider. It begs the question, why were all the complaints ignored and the cause of all the problems reinstated?

Ms. Jinbo and Ms. Wolfe tried to get legislation passed to address this inequity, however, the Ways and Means Committee killed the bill early in the process. By virtue of the bill being laid to rest, the taxpayers are the ones who ultimately have to pay for the lack of a reasonable legislated solution to these types of cases when management doesn’t step up to their responsibility of in-house resolution. What is the use of Hawaii’s Attorney General’s office having developed a “comprehensive manual that addresses workplace violence prevention, intervention, and recovery initiatives” if there is nothing to back it up as in “giving it teeth”?

The best and least expensive solution for the future is for Legislature to develop a bill that will give all employees equal rights under the law, not just “protected classes” when it comes to workplace violence that an accepted description is to be emotional, physical, or verbal abuse, as well as threatening written or e-mail statements, gestures or expressions. All employees should be protected and complaints properly investigated under a “zero-tolerance” of workplace violence.

Track record and previous complaints should be taken into consideration along with current acts of misconduct to make a determination if an employee is truly guilty of what they are being accused of. If any supervisor or employee is found to have committed abuse, violence, verbal or written harassment, or sexual misconduct, it should be dealt with decisively through discipline and/or termination, with further consequences for reprisals (such as blocking/declining promotions of complainants, etc.) committed by the disciplined employee or management. For those who feel resolution legislation would open the field for a plethora of false reports, a provision should be put in place that such reports would be grounds for loss of employment as a counter measure.

Having been on the receiving end of workplace violence many years ago, things may have turned out very differently for me should there have been policies and legislation in place to prevent what is now an all too common occurrence. Let us hope that the Legislature has learned a lesson from this entire experience and moves to correct the loopholes and flaws that allow this type of occurrence to take place. Taxpayers pay millions through litigation that would be avoided by providing legally mandated resolutions to workplace violence. I believe that we all are in agreement that our tax dollars could be better used for more important things than defending those who perpetrate workplace violence.

About the author: Pualani McBee is an artist and the author of a few internet articles, with a background in editing.

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