HONOLULU — The former head of Hawaii’s Department of Human Services confirmed Thursday that she filed a sexual harassment complaint against former House Speaker Joe Souki.
Rachael Wong said she filed the complaint last fall with the Hawaii State Ethics Commission. She declined to detail the allegations because she didn’t want to affect the outcome of the process underway.
Souki’s attorney, Michael Green, said Wong misunderstood what happened three years ago when the 84-year-old state representative from Maui was speaker.
As first reported by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Green said Wong was complaining that Souki said she was perky during a meeting at his office and kissed her on the cheek afterward when she went to shake his hand. He said Wong complained about Souki adjusting his pants when he got up from his chair after the meeting.
“He never intended to make her uncomfortable and never intended to have it be sexual harassment,” Green said. It’s implausible Souki would have such intentions, he said, because Wong’s colleague was there at the time. Green said Souki was just showing “aloha.” He questioned why Wong would file a complaint now, three years later.
House Speaker Scott Saiki said in a statement he would wait to see the findings and recommendations of the ethics commission before deciding on any action over the allegations.
He said the House of Representatives takes workplace harassment matters seriously, noting last year it instituted mandatory, annual training to combat workplace harassment for all House members and permanent employees. Before, the training had been held every two years.
Green said there needs to be due process for both the person who believes they were sexually harassed and the accused.
“All you need is for the accuser to say it happened, or the opportunity to have it happen, and the person is history,” Green said. “Now it’s all over the place, front page.”
Wong, 46, said in a statement she felt powerless to do anything when she was in state government due to the risk of retaliation against her, her department and the executive branch. But she said she reached a point where she could “no longer not say or do anything.” She said she was motivated by a deep love of Hawaii and “great sadness that this is our reality.”
Daniel Gluck, the ethics commission’s executive director, said all complaints are treated confidentially and he wasn’t able to say whether a complaint was filed. He said the commission doesn’t reveal any information about an investigation until there’s a public conclusion.
Associated Press researcher Rhonda Shafner in New York contributed to this report.