Maui police to blame in harassment case, jury finds
By David Waite
Advertiser Courts Writer
A federal court jury found yesterday that former Maui police officer Bonnie Burke was racially and sexually harassed while on the job and awarded her $80,000.
The jury of five men and four women deliberated for five days after 12 days of trial, which ended last Wednesday.
The jury concluded that the conduct Burke was subjected to while working for the Police Department violated state and federal laws that prohibit a hostile work environment caused by sexual harassment.
The jury also found that Burke's work environment was made hostile by racial harassment violating state and federal law. The jurors determined that the gender discrimination Burke was subjected to also violated her civil rights.
"I'm very happy because it shows that our (legal) system does work," Burke said after the verdict was announced. She declined to comment at length, saying she had to catch a plane to return to the Mainland, where she now lives.
Maui Police Chief Thomas Phillips said he was "very disappointed" with the trial's outcome.
"We won the case four years ago, but they gave (Burke) a new trial. It was very disappointing to have to go through this all over again," Phillips said.
In May 1999, a federal jury rejected Burke's contention that she had suffered discrimination because she was a woman and Caucasian. But the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals later ruled that "highly prejudicial" testimony about Burke's sexual history should not have been introduced at trial, and ordered the new trial.
Burke's lawyers in the second trial, Shaun Luiz and Ladd Ueoka, claimed that Burke was the object of gender- and race-based slurs and was sexually assaulted at least three times while working for the Maui Police Department in 1991-97.
Burke maintained during the trial that Maui County officials knew that former Maui Deputy Police Chief Lanny Tihada had problems with alcohol and inappropriate sexual behavior toward women working for the department but they did nothing to correct the problems. Burke claimed that Tihada sexually assaulted her at least three times while she worked for the department.
Burke was one of five female police officers to file such complaints. Four of them reached settlements with the county but Burke rejected a proposed settlement.
But Richard Rand, the attorney for Tihada and Maui County, claimed that Maui police officials went out of their way to accommodate Burke's special needs after she began suffering from a blood disorder and that several of the officers whom she accused of harassment donated their leave time to help her.
Rand said the evidence presented at trial showed Tihada's sexual encounters with Burke to be consensual.
Phillips said he hopes that the jurors will discuss their reasons for finding in favor of Burke.
The chief said about 10 percent of the Maui police force are women.
Reach David Waite at email@example.com or 525-8030.