Good/Bad News in Military (Dis)Service for Women

by Beth Corbin

Former Navy lieutenant Paula Coughlin won $5 million in punitive damages in her suit against the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel for its failure to provide adequate security during the 1991 Tailhook convention. Coughlin was one of more than 80 women who say they were sexually assaulted by drunken Navy and Marine aviators at the convention. The federal jury had earlier awarded Coughlin $1.7 million in compensatory damages.

USA Today reports that Navy fitness records described Coughlin as a "bright star" with a promising future until she quit, citing harassment after she publicly charged that the Navy had failed to investigate the complaints of sexual assaults and retaliation for blowing the whistle on the Tailhook scandal.

 "I think justice was served," said Coughlin, who hopes to slip into obscurity, go home and, "paint my house."

 Coughlin settled with the Tailhook Association for an undisclosed amount of money before the civil trial began. Hers is the first of 12 lawsuits stemming from the Tailhook convention to go to trial.

 Financial statements introduced in court showed the net worth of Hilton Hotel Corp. at $1.1 billion and the Las Vegas Hilton at $274 million.

Here We Go Again

Naval investigators are looking into sexual harassment allegations against eight male instructors at a Navy training facility in San Diego.

 The case involves reports from 16 women, who are current or former students at the school, about verbal and physical abuse from the instructors. While Navy officials declined to provide specifics about the allegations, The Washington Post reported that at least one of the reports described instructors offering students higher grades in return for sex.

Lt. Patrick Dennison, spokesperson for the school, told Newsweek magazine that only one allegation involves an instructor propositioning a student, and that the incident is said to have occurred after the student completed the instructor's course.

 Release of the latest scandal came on the heels of the federal jury decision in the lawsuit brought by former Navy Lt. Paula Coughlin.

 Classes on relations between the sexes, with emphasis on what constitutes harassment, have become mandatory for many Navy personnel. And six months ago, Adm. Jeremy Boorda, the chief naval officer, issued new instructions to commanders mandating swift investigations of allegations of sexual harassment.

 The latest allegations first came to the attention of service commanders following a casual conversation by a student with a chief petty officer, describing inappropriate conduct by an instructor at the school. Command personnel, assisted by agents from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, immediately launched an investigation. Capt. John C. Ensch, commander of the Naval Training Center, where the school is located, he said in a statement, "The Navy takes any allegation of sexual harassment very seriously."

 While promising a full and speedy investigation, Navy officials noted that the process has been slowed because many of the women involved have been transferred to other commands.

West Point Cadets Suspended in Groping Incident

Three members of the West Point football team were suspended for the remainder of the season following charges by more than 18 female cadets who said they were groped during a pep rally, two days before a game with The Citadel.

 Rep. Patricia Schroeder, D-Colo., a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the punishment was too lenient. Citing the incident as a violation of the military code of conduct, Rep. Schroeder said, "It always seems we keep sending this message that if [a violation of the military code of conduct] happens to women it is not as serious as if it happens to anyone else."

 As part of a pep rally crowd 51 women were among 600 cadets who ran past a cordon of football players. The women complainants said they were brushed across the breasts.

 Although none of the women could identify the offending players, some members of the team reported their teammates laughing and joking about the matter in the locker room afterward. The "spirit run," part of the school's Game Week activities for the past three years, has been suspended because of the incident.

 School officials acted quickly in dealing with the charges, notifying the Pentagon and Congressional oversight authorities about the episode and requesting on-the-scene oversight by specialists from the Inspector General's office.

 "This was not treated as a prank but as a serious incident," said Lt. Col. Don McGrath, the Academy's chief spokesperson. He also said that high-ranking officers, including Lt. Gen. Howard D. Graves, Superintendent of the Academy, chose not to seek expulsion after cadet representatives of both sexes agreed that there was no evidence of more egregious and premeditated behavior. The New York Times reported that hundreds of football players and female cadets were interviewed by investigators.

 While The New York Times reported that many of the cadets felt the incident was an aberration, a General Accounting Office report in January 1994, said a majority of women at the three service academies had suffered from some kind of harassment or hostility from fellow cadets.

 Of the women interviewed from West Point's class of 1993, 76 percent said they had experienced some form of harassment. There are 4,000 cadets, including 600 women, at the Academy, which has graduated more than 1,200 female officers since 1976.

Cry Baby II: The Sequel

Less than 24 hours after retiring from the military, Navy Adm. Henry H. Mauz, Jr. -- safely out of the Senate's reach -- blasted Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., for questioning his handling of the Tailhook scandal. Mauz's letter to Sen. Murray took on particular significance since, according to a reporter for The New York Times, "Admirals and general are trained to suffer the public grillings of law-makers with grace and gritted teeth.

 Sen. Murray had tried to block his retirement at a full four-star rank because of what she said were unanswered questions about his handling of Tailhook and other incidents.

 In a letter to the Senator, released to the press, Mauz criticized her for showing, "little interest in the truth . . . You caused great anguish for my family and upset plans both for myself and my [successor]."

The Washington Post reported that Mauz's retirement became controversial following allegations by a Washington-based group, the Government Accountability Project, that the Admiral had not sufficiently pursued allegations that Navy Lt. Darlene Simmons suffered reprisals after she lodged a successful sexual harassment complaint. The group also charged that Mauz tried to punish an enlisted man, Senior Chief George Taylor, because Taylor publicly complained that Mauz and his staff had improperly taken a trip to Bermuda at government expense.

 "Adm. Mauz's letter reflects my experience that when I raise questions about sexual harassment and whistle-blowing, in response, I don't get answers, I get personal attacks," Sen. Murray said. "If I as a senator have had a tough time getting adequate responses from the Navy -- and I have direct access to the highest level of leadership there -- I can only imagine the difficulty Simmons and Taylor had."

 Despite Sen. Murray's call for a hearing, the Senate approved, 92 to 6, President Clinton's recommendation that Admiral Mauz keep his four stars. The Senate must confirm the retirement ranks of all three and four-star officers. Mauz, a 35-year Navy veteran, will receive an annual pension of $82,680. Retiring at two stars would have cut that pension by nearly $15,300.

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