EEOC: Evidence exists in police discrimination case

LIHUE — The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued a determination letter following an investigation into the Kauai Police Department’s alleged actions in subjecting an officer to illegal retaliations after reporting sexual harassment.

The letter of determination was filed April 25 and signed by acting District Director Rosa Viramontes in Los Angeles and through the Honolulu local office. It states that sufficient evidence exists to establish a VII violation of the Civil Rights Act.

Officer Darla Abbatiello-Higa, a 29-year veteran of the Kauai Police Department, alleges her supervisors filed a complaint against her in retaliation for her underlying EEOC case against Assistant Chief Quibilan regarding a sexual harassment claim in 2012.

A letter of determination is sent to parties when an EEOC investigation finds there is reasonable cause to believe discrimination has occurred. The parties to the matter have the option to seek resolution of the charges through an informal conciliation process. The EEOC also has the authority to enforce violations by filing a lawsuit in federal court, or in the alternative, issue the charging party a notice of a right to sue letter.

The two separate letters of determination say there is sufficient evidence to show retaliation by supervisors for filing a complaint against Abbatiello-Higa because of her gender. They also state the officer was subjected to several administrative investigations in response to engaging in protected activity.

Viramontes states that the EEOC makes no finding as to whether the defendants subjected Annatiello-Higa to discrimination due to her sex in the underlying case. The investigation conducted by Glory Gervacio determined that there is reasonable cause to believe that the officer was subjected to retaliation for engaging in protected activity.

Federal law prohibits retaliation against persons who have exercised their right to inquire or complain about matters they believe may violate the law. 

According to other sources, the EEOC complaint alleges 15 violations of standards of conduct and confidentiality. The federal agency’s investigation found cause against KPD for retaliating twice against Abbatiello-Higa, including an internal investigation for malicious conduct, and against two other officers who filed complaints under obligation of department policy to report harassment.

The Kauai Police Commission reportedly hired attorney Todd Withy to conduct an independent investigation on the harassment claim. Withy concluded the harassment did occur and that the actions amounted to retaliation against Abbatiello-Higa.

The defendants deny both the harassment and retaliation allegations. The executive session agenda items at the May Police Commission meeting included discussion of legal options for two EEOC complaints. 

“The determination which was made by the EEOC is highly unusual and questionable because I was never interviewed nor given an opportunity to provide possible relevant information to the EEOC to address any of the charges,” said Kauai Chief of Police Darryl Perry, who has been in his position since August 2007. 

At the very least, Perry said he should have been interviewed or given an opportunity to submit a written response to defend the department’s position and defend employees who were accused.

“Although I was not made privy to the charges, my assessment is that the EEOC made their determination mainly on information provided by the Office of the County Attorney, in which they were in direct communication,” Perry said. 

EEOC spokesperson Christine Park-Gonzalez said she could not confirm or deny that any cause of determination letter exists. 

Although Perry spoke about the determination, the county is not confirming or denying the matter.

In 2006, the county settled a lawsuit with Abbatiello-Higa for $980,000. She alleged harassment and demotions while she was protected under the federal Whistleblower Protection Act. In January 2012, assistant chiefs Ale Quibilan and Roy Asher were placed on leave for what was called a hostile work environment complaint.

Quibilan led the Patrol Bureau since December 2008. He now leads Investigative Services Bureau. The ISB Assistant Chief Roy Asher was moved to lead PSB. KPD said the reassignments are routine and promote interdepartmental collaboration.

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