Company to pay for harassing employee

Kintetsu International Express will pay $77,500 to settle a disability discrimination lawsuit alleging the company harassed a tour coordinator on Maui and retaliated against a co-worker who witnessed the harassment, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced Wednesday.

The settlement includes a three-year consent decree requiring the Japan-based travel agency to hire an equal employment opportunity consultant to monitor the company’s compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, create policies and procedures to address disability discrimination, and train all employees on the act annually. The consent decree also calls for additional training for management and human resources officials to effectively deal with future disability discrimination, harassment and retaliation complaints.

In the lawsuit filed October 2010 in U.S. District Court in Honolulu, the EEOC alleged that a supervisor in Kintetsu’s Maui office demeaned Yuko Lesher, who worked as a tour coordinator in 2005 and 2006. Lesher walked with difficulty because of her malignant rheumatoid arthritis, and the supervisor made disparaging remarks about the way she walked and ridiculed her for walking with a limp, according to the EEOC. When Lesher required surgery, the supervisor refused to schedule Lesher back to work following her recovery until the human resources department intervened, the EEOC alleged.

Lesher and co-worker Nozomi Hoshi, who witnessed the harassment, allegedly reported the harassment and discrimination to the vice president of Kintetsu, but no corrective action was taken, the EEOC said. Instead, both Lesher and Hoshi received less favorable work performance evaluations despite prior high marks, according to the EEOC.

The EEOC said that Lesher was further harassed and eventually forced to resign in retaliation for her reporting the disability harassment and discrimination. When the Kintetsu supervisor learned of Hoshi’s complaint to the vice president, the supervisor had Hoshi write an apology letter under threat of termination, according to the EEOC. Finally, the EEOC said, Hoshi also was forced to resign in retaliation for her reporting activities.

Under the settlement, Kintetsu will track future complaints by creating a centralized tracking system and design disciplinary policies to hold employees accountable for discrimination. EEOC will monitor compliance with the agreement and the handling of future equal employment opportunity complaints.

“Employees with disabilities deserve the same respect on the job as any other productive worker,” said Anna Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office, which has jurisdiction over Hawaii. “Kintetsu is taking steps in the right direction by implementing new policies to comply with the law and give workers equal protections.”

Timothy Riera, director of the EEOC’s Honolulu Local Office, added, “Employers must investigate and effectively deal with reports of discrimination and harassment. Companies that ignore such reports – or retaliate against those brave enough to come forward – violate federal law.”

Kintetsu officials couldn’t be reached for comment Wednesday.

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at