Simeonica Tuiteleapaga kneels and DHSS director apologizes in ‘private’
Despite knowing that “I didn’t do anything wrong,” Simeonica Tuiteleleapaga said she was on the floor and kneeling before her boss, Human and Social Services director Taeaoafua Dr. Meki Solomona during a private meeting, in his office, a few days after the director berated her in front of some 200 staff members at a meeting following the Nov. 8 general election.
According to Tuiteleleapaga, the director then said he was ‘sorry’ and was ‘wrong’ to her privately — but he has not apologized to her in front of the DHSS staff that was present at the meeting, nor to her family, who he hurt with his words.
She has filed a discrimination complaint over the incident with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “I’m not doing this for fame, but for everyone who has gone through or is facing the same type of situation that I suffered through,” she said in a Samoa News telephone interview yesterday. “I will continue to pursue my case.”
Tuiteleleapaga expressed appreciation to her entire family for their continued support. “I have prayed to the Lord to please forgive me for whatever I have done wrong,” she added.
The incident involving Tuiteleleapaga, a transgender woman and long time employee of DHSS, dominated statements made during Taeaoafua’s confirmation hearing in the Senate on Monday, where Senate President Gaoteote Tofau Palaie, asked if the director-appointee had apologized to the employee involved in his (Taeaoafua) error in judgment.
Taeaoafua said yes, he has apologized to the employee.
By Monday evening, Samoa News received information that Taeaoafua made the apology during a private meeting at his office a few days after the staff meeting.
Tuiteleleapaga confirmed she had received a ‘private’ apology, saying that “I wanted the director to know that I’m a very humble person, who didn’t do anything wrong… And my family does not know and I didn’t tell them that I knelt (to’atuli) in front of Director Taeaoafua, during the private meeting.”
She explained that although she was told she was fired during the staff meeting, she went to work on Monday, Nov. 14, because she was not served with any termination papers and “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Upon arriving at the office, she was informed by her supervisor that the “tama” or father, referring to the director, had called for a meeting.
“I couldn’t face him because I didn’t do anything wrong,” Tuiteleleapaga said, adding that she had already contacted her family following the staff meeting and that she was going to fight this battle on her own and didn’t want her family to be affected any more.
She said her family, including her 2 children, are all very hurt and greatly affected by what the director said at the staff meeting, especially with some of the comments directed at her family.
One comment in particular was cited by Tuiteleleapaga’s aunty in an open letter to senators and published in the Samoa News on Tuesday: “He [the director] went on to say “o ai sou aiga lou maile” to Simeonica, when she responded to Dr. Solomona’s questions.”
Tuiteleleapaga said, at the meeting in the director’s office that Taeaoafua said, “I was not loyal to him” during the November election and that’s when “it was confirmed that this was all political.” Her aunt is married to Faoa Aitofele Sunia, who was a candidate for governor in last year’s gubernatorial race.
She then informed the director that the “Lord sees that whatever I did wrong, to forgive me” and then “I knelt (to’atuli) in front of the director, just to let him know that I’m a very humble person.”
Asked if the director said anything, Tuiteleleapaga said the director came over to raise her up from the floor; and she recalled the director telling her, “Simeonica, I’m so sorry, your father is wrong.”
Asked if she accepted the apology, Tuiteleleapaga said, “I didn’t tell him that I accepted the apology. Deep down in my heart, I thought that if he would want to say that, he would come before all of the staff who were present [in the November meeting] to say it... as well as to my family.”
The Samoan culture “teaches all to respect — ava fatafata — others and the director as a leader didn’t show me that respect,” she said, adding that the question that will remain for a long time with her is, “What did I do wrong? And I believe that has to do with politics.”
In the tape recording that was shared on social media, Tuiteleleapaga is heard asking the director what she did wrong, which prompted her being told to leave the meeting and she was fired.
“The Lord knows that clear in my heart I didn’t do anything wrong at all towards my director,” Tuiteleleapaga said yesterday.
FEDERAL ISSUE VS. LOCAL ISSUE
Samoa News understands the government has queried why Ms. Tuiteleleapaga did not file her complaint with the ASG Equal Employment Office Department first, instead of taking it directly to the US Labor Department, i.e. the feds.
Tuiteleleapaga told Samoa News she went to the local EEO officer, who she asked for the local process, and if there is a lawyer to help. She said she was informed that the complaint is filed with the ASG-EEO officer, who then makes a report to the Department of Human Resources (DHR) director.
“I thought to myself all of these things happening to me, stem from the fact that I voted or supported a different person during the election,” Tuiteleleapaga said. “So if it’s handled locally, I won’t get a fair hearing and it will be swept under the carpet.”
She also thought about the 2011 case filed with the EEOC by then DHR official Eseneiaso Liu, who went directly to the feds for help. “So I moved forward filing with the federal government. And I worked in the WIC program, which is 100% federally funded,” she said referring to the Women, Infant and Children program, administrated locally by DHSS. “And it’s the individual’s right to file directly with the federal government.”
Liu, who is the newly confirmed DHR director, filed the age discrimination case against ASG and with the help of EEOC, won the case through a settlement in 2012.
Efforts by the American Samoa Government to settle the matter internally was declined by Tuiteleleapaga.
Her decision was revealed in a letter (obtained by Samoa News) from the US EEOC in Honolulu Hawai’i, responding to Department of Human Resources Eseneiaso Liu’s request on behalf of ASG to “grieve the matter internally (within ASG).”
US-EEOC local officer-director, Gloria Gervacio Saure also noted in this letter that it served as a notice of law enforcement proceedings by the EEOC that includes an investigation into the issue. She pointed out that the charge levied by Tuiteleleapaga served to trigger law enforcement proceedings by the EEOC; and if there is a finding of discrimination, it may include conciliation and litigation.
SOURCE OF TAPE RECORDING
Tuiteleleapaga also dismissed claims circulating that she is the one that recorded the DHSS meeting on tape.
She told Samoa News, “I didn’t record the meeting and I wasn’t able to attend the entire meeting,” she said.
“But I thank the person or persons who tape recorded the meeting, and that person is an angel. If it wasn’t for the tape recording all of this wouldn’t have come out,” she said.