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Paia Inn owner accused of sexual harassment by former employees

Former workers and supporters stage rally

Protesters march on the sidewalk fronting Paia Inn and Vana restaurant Friday afternoon in Paia in support of former employees who are accusing Paia Inn owner Michael Baskin of sexual harassment. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

About a dozen people joined a rally in Paia on Friday afternoon to support former Paia Inn employees who have alleged sexual harassment by owner Michael Baskin.

“The primary reason for the rally is to keep this from happening to anyone else ever again,” said Erin McCargar, former controller and acting human resources manager for Paia Inn.

She said Baskin has been accused of sexually harassing at least five employees in the last three months. The alleged sexual harassment was through inappropriate text messages, verbal comments and physical contact, said McCargar, who added that she was not subject to the sexual harassment.

She said complaints have been filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission. She said one woman made a report to police Friday.

A police spokeswoman said Friday that she didn’t have access to the report.

Former Paia Inn housekeeper and receptionist Tywenalyn Opiana-Aki, 19, holds a warning sign along Hana Highway Friday. Opiana-Aki is one of the former employees who have come forward to accuse Paia Inn owner Michael Baskin of sexual harassment. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

In a statement Friday afternoon, Baskin said: “I am surprised and deeply bothered by these allegations, as Paia Inn and our sister companies are committed to a workplace atmosphere that is free of discrimination and harassment of any kind.”

“Given that our investigation into the matter is ongoing, we are unable to comment on Ms. McCargar’s claims,” his statement continued. “We are proud of our history of providing employment to many Maui residents and look forward to continuing to serve the community as an employer and through our numerous charitable efforts.”

McCargar said she worked at Paia Inn for almost six months before Baskin fired her May 21 when she met with him at the inn restaurant to discuss allegations of sexual harassment from multiple employees.

Starting in April, she said she received reports from five employees, including one man, who worked in front desk and housekeeping jobs at the inn. The employees ranged in age from 19 to 24 and were single at the time, McCargar said.

She said the allegations mainly involved “wildly inappropriate texts” to employees that included comments about women’s bodies and name-calling.

She wasn’t able to immediately provide the text messages to The Maui News on Friday afternoon.

McCargar helped organize the protest on Friday that drew about a dozen people holding signs and shouting slogans while marching on the Hana Highway sidewalk fronting the Paia Inn and Vana restaurant.

“The thing his victims have in common is they are young and they are unattached,” she said during the rally. “We’re getting a lot of support from people walking and driving by. A lot of their stories are similar. I just want people to know sexual harassment is a big deal. Anytime a person is hurt it’s bad. It should not happen, and it definitely should not happen at work.”

McCargar told The Maui News that “the more serious allegations involve him requiring his employees to give him massages when that’s not ever been part of their job descriptions.”

A 19-year-old woman, who worked as a housekeeper and receptionist at Paia Inn for almost three months, said Baskin offered her a promotion to be his personal assistant and told her personal assistants give him massages.

Tywenalyn Opiana-Aki said she was in Baskin’s personal room at the inn when he showered and took off a towel around his waist to have her massage him. She said she told Baskin she had to leave.

Opiana-Aki said Baskin had her drink alcohol and would send texts asking her to meet him after work.

She added that she was treated badly when she didn’t do what he wanted and was demoted.

She said she was among a few people who resigned from their jobs May 22, the day after McCargar said she was fired.

The Maui News does not name survivors of sexual harassment, assault or abuse unless they are willing to be identified.

When McCargar asked to meet with Baskin about the sexual harassment allegations, “I had an action plan ready for him to protect the employees and protect his companies,” McCargar said. “It would have protected him as well from any further allegations.”

Baskin ended up firing her and walking away, McCargar said.

“I really just want to make sure that anyone who walks in there knows what they’re walking into so they can make an informed decision about who they want to work for,” she said.

“No one should be afraid to go to work,” she added. “Employees should have the expectation of a workplace free from any kind of sexual harassment. And wherever harassment is happening, it needs to stop.”

* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at lfujimoto@mauinews.com. Mathew Thayer contributed to this report

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