Justice Department, A. Samoa settle lawsuit involving transgender woman
By Pacific Island Times News Staff
The Justice Department and the American Samoa government have settled a federal lawsuit alleging harassment and discrimination against a transgender woman, who is a former employee.
The consent decree approved by a federal court Tuesday requires the American Samoa government to pay Simeonica Tuiteleleapaga $125,000 “for the harassment she suffered at the hands of her supervisor.”
The department filed the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for Hawaii accusing the American Samoa government of violating the civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion and sex, including sexual orientation and gender identity.
The lawsuit was prompted by a harassment complaint lodged by Tuiteleleapaga against the Department of Human and Social Services.
“Discrimination against transgender employees is discrimination based on their sex, and no employee should have to tolerate a supervisor’s hostile comments about their gender identity,” said Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.
According to the department’s complaint, Meki Solomona, then-director of the Department of Human and Social Services, harassed Tuiteleleapaga and another transgender employee on multiple occasions, despite the employees’ complaints about his misconduct.
The complaint describes one humiliating instance when Solomona singled out Tuiteleleapaga at a department-wide meeting, where he threatened to eliminate her position, asked her if she was a “girl or a boy” and told her to “[t]ake it off” and “let us see if you are a woman.”
After Tuiteleleapaga left the meeting in tears, Solomona continued his tirade for 40 minutes, repeatedly referring to her as a “thing” or an “it.”
According to the complaint, Solomona attempted to transfer her to another work location, misgendered her to her supervisor, attempted to terminate her, and refused to allow her routine work travel authorizations. The local government failed to take any actions to stop his harassment.
The consent decree also requires the territorial government to adopt new policies and procedures to handle sex-based discrimination complaints and to provide its employees training on these new policies.
“Transgender employees must be free from discrimination, harassment or derision in the workplace," Clarke said.
"The Justice Department will not tolerate discrimination based on an employee’s sex or gender identity and will safeguard the rights of vulnerable workers, including LGBTQI+ employees," she added.