Metro’s inspector general is investigating the agency’s handling of complaints alleging racial and sexual harassment by a top MetroAccess official, the IG’s office has confirmed.
The probe was initiated after complaints from individuals outraged over Metro’s response to the harassment allegations reached the office of the newly appointed inspector general in recent weeks, the IG’s office confirmed.
Geoffrey Cherrington, a renowned federal investigator, took over as inspector general on April 17.
The woman who alleged harassment was fired months after complaining about her treatment, according to a lawsuit she later filed. The man she alleged harassed her remains in his role as director of MetroAccess Service.
The details of how the harassment complaints were allegedly handled came to light in a lawsuit, Kim v. Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, that was filed in April 2015 and settled this past September. According to the suit, Minkyung Kim said she endured racial and sexual harassment as well as hostility from MetroAccess Director Omari June after being hired as a MetroAccess service monitor in March 2013, culminating in her termination a year later.
Cherrington confirmed that there is an ongoing probe into the agency’s handling of the allegations but said he could not comment on open investigations. Details of the settlement, which court records show was reached in September, have not been made public, although court documents indicate that Metro was to make payments to Kim.
The lawsuit alleged that June routinely talked about sex — including the size of his genitalia — simulated a sexual act with a water bottle and at one point assigned Kim weekend “homework” to “figure out” what color her skin was and report back to him the next Monday, when he followed up with her. Kim is of Asian descent; June is black.
The lawsuit also alleged that June sent sexually suggestive photos and videos to Kim.
Kim repeatedly complained of June’s behavior to her immediate supervisor, her complaint says, but the supervisor replied, “I’m sorry . . . I can’t control him.” Kim said supervisors became more hostile toward her once her discomfort became clear, according to the lawsuit, and she was “falsely accused” of insubordination and being “too direct in her tone.”
Metro denied the harassment charges after an internal investigation, which accused Kim of acting inappropriately and led to her firing after the transit agency said it could not find any witnesses to corroborate her story.
Kim had complained to another Metro supervisor and filed a union grievance, according to the suit. She also filed a complaint with an internal Equal Opportunity and Employee Relations employee, according to her lawsuit, and later the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Findings of EEOC investigations are confidential, and the results could not be determined.
Instead of thoroughly examining the harassment allegations, the suit says, Metro conducted a “sham investigation” with a focus on getting Kim fired.
June did not respond to emails seeking comment on the allegations, the lawsuit and the inspector general’s investigation, and could not be reached by phone. Kim and her attorney, Susan E. Huhta, declined to comment.
Metro spokesman Dan Stessel declined to answer questions about the settlement or the inspector general’s probe.
The court filings, however, shed light on Metro’s reaction to Kim’s complaints. The agency denied the racial and sexual harassment allegations — as well as the charge that it conducted a fraudulent investigation aimed at terminating Kim’s employment.
Stessel confirmed that April 14, 2014, was Kim’s last day of employment but declined to say whether she was fired. But in the lawsuit, the transit agency said Kim was, in fact, terminated — with cause.
“Any employment decisions by [the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority] were made for valid, nondiscriminatory reasons,” the agency said in its response to the suit. Kim, “a probationary employee, was discharged for just cause.”
According to Metro’s response, an employee conducted an investigation of Kim’s complaints — using documents provided by Kim and interviewing employees who worked with her. Kim alleged that at least one of the employees interviewed corroborated her story.
But four days before she left Metro, the lawsuit stated, Metro’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Employee Relations sent Kim a letter that said her allegations were not supported by evidence and that people interviewed did not support her claims against June. Metro alleged that Kim had acted inappropriately in the workplace, including touching others and making sexual remarks, according to the lawsuit. Kim denied the allegations, stating in the lawsuit that they were made in retaliation for her earlier complaints.
“These allegations were false, and known to be false by [Metro] at the time it made them,” Kim’s complaint reads. “They were retaliatory and trumped up to serve as a rationale for firing Ms. Kim four days later.”
Kim was otherwise regarded as an “exemplary employee,” according to the lawsuit, but she alleges that Metro’s response to her complaints was to give her an “unwarranted negative performance review,” accuse her of shirking equal employment opportunity policies and fire her — actions that she contends violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
In its response, Metro denied that it failed to thoroughly investigate the alleged harassment.
Metro “promptly and effectively investigated and responded to Plaintiff’s claims, and exercised reasonable and appropriate care in all respects related thereto,” reads the June 2015 response, asking a judge to dismiss the suit.
MetroAccess is the transit agency’s door-to-door paratransit service for the elderly and people with disabilities. It has an annual budget of more than $100 million and serves an estimated 43,000 customers. It is the agency’s fastest-growing and most expensive service.