State loses $4 million in gender bias suit
By Curtis Lum
Advertiser Staff Writer
A Circuit Court jury yesterday awarded nearly $4 million to two of four women who sued the state four years ago, alleging that their supervisors discriminated against them on the basis of gender and harassed them.
The lawsuit was filed in May 1997 by the three former and one current employee of the Department of Public Safety. Named as defendants were the state, the department and department supervisors.
Sidney Zalopany and Wendy Elkins, two former high-ranking state employees, were awarded about $2 million each by the jury of 10 women and two men. The jury was deadlocked over awarding damages to Faith Evans and refused to award damages to Dr. Kim Thornburn.
The trial before Circuit Judge Gary Chang lasted nine weeks. The jury deliberated 11 days before reaching a verdict.
The state is expected to appeal. Deputy Attorney Gen. Gary Hynds said the verdict was unjust and that the case is far from over.
Elkins, a former investigator with the department, said she was denied a promotion that was given to a less qualified man. She also said that she was verbally abused by her supervisor.
Elkins left the department after six years and now works as a supervisor in the city prosecutor's office. She said yesterday's verdict was a "vindication."
"You know the judge will understand, but you wonder what those 12 people must think of you. Do they think we're just stupid girls, or do they think we're just looking for money? But, by God, they all believed us," Elkins said.
Zalopany accused then-Public Safety director George Iranon of promising her an administration position but then removing her from that office. She said she also was denied privileges given to male employees.
Zalopany and Elkins said they expect the state to appeal their awards. But both said they didn't care about the money.
"Obviously, (the jury) believed in us, and that was the most incredible validation in it of itself," she said. Zalopany still works with the Department of Public Safety but is assigned to the Internal Revenue Service.
All four women were represented by lawyers Michael Green and David Gierlach.
Evans said she intends to go to trial again. Evans served as the U.S. marshal in Honolulu before she began working for the state.
Thornburn was the department's health-care administrator. She could not be reached for comment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.