Janitor Testifies Smithsonian Executive Assaulted Her
Thursday, January 17, 2008
A former Smithsonian janitor tearfully alleged in federal court this week that a vice president of the museum complex's business unit assaulted her during an altercation 4 1/2 years ago, but the top official testified that the story was mostly fabricated.
Former custodian Mary T. Majano testified that Smithsonian Business Ventures Vice President Jeanny Kim followed her through a secure door in June 2003 and shoved her against a wall after Majano asked to see her security badge. Majano also said Kim stalked after her down a hallway uttering obscenities and, when they arrived at an elevator lobby, repeatedly yanked on Majano's lanyard, injuring her neck.
"I was afraid, very afraid," said Majano, of Silver Spring, who is suing for damages from a herniated disk she said she got in the attack.
Kim, 40, denied the janitor's allegations, testifying that an argument occurred when she slipped through the secure door behind Majano, 48, but that no assault happened.
She apologized for "piggybacking" on Majano's entry through the door. "I just don't understand how we could get to this place here from what I felt was a minor incident . . . that was just blown out of proportion," said Kim, who oversees the Smithsonian's partnership with Showtime Networks.
The 2 1/2 -day hearing in U.S. District Court was held to determine whether Kim's actions during the encounter were part of her "scope of employment," which would mean she would be afforded immunity from such injury lawsuits under the Federal Tort Claims Act and the case would be dismissed.
If U.S. District Judge Rosemary Collyer decides Kim's actions were not in the course of doing work, the case could go to trial, but Kim would lose representation from government attorneys and have to rely on private counsel. A decision is expected in about a month.
Majano sued Kim in D.C. Superior Court, but the Justice Department, citing the tort immunity law, got the case moved to federal court, where Collyer tossed it out. But in 2006 the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit overturned Collyer, ordering her to hold a hearing to determine the facts.
Kim was in the news last summer when Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) sent a letter to the Smithsonian inquiring whether the business unit's then-chief executive, Gary M. Beer, had shown favoritism in promoting Kim rapidly through the ranks. Kim began as Beer's executive assistant and now is one of the highest-paid employees in the business unit, earning more than $140,000 in 2006. Beer said Kim's promotions were based on merit.
Both sides agree that something happened on the afternoon of June 17, 2003, as Majano reported for work at the Victor Building, a downtown office structure the Smithsonian owned at the time. They both agree also that Kim, who did not have her key card, followed Majano through an unmonitored secure door in the parking structure and both walked down a hallway where they boarded an elevator.
"Everything in between [the entrance and the elevator] is in dispute," Collyer said yesterday. "I'm going to have to sort that out."
Majano said that Kim grabbed her security badge and yanked down so violently on the lanyard that the card broke in half.