A man who was employed by the Salt Lake Legal Defender Association for over a decade has filed a lawsuit against the organization claiming it discriminated against him as a Pacific Islander.

Isileli Tausinga was chief of the investigations division between 2015 and 2021, and was hired by the association in 2007 as an investigator.

Tausinga's lawsuit said he loved his job and his evaluations were excellent; however, in 2019 the association began treating him "worse than his white colleagues," he said.

Tausinga said after he brought forward discrimination complaints, the employees he brought them to questioned his performance, accused him of discriminating based on gender and threatened him. After this, he said he experienced anxiety and panic attacks. The lawsuit said his doctor advised him to take medical leave, and later said returning may be harmful to his physical and mental health, so Tausinga resigned in 2021.

Association's response

The Salt Lake Legal Defender Association said in a statement to KSL.com that it acknowledges Tausinga's right to "litigate his decision to resign."

"Because of our organization's commitment to the judicial process, we recognize that the courts are the appropriate forum for addressing Mr. Tausinga's allegations," the statement said.

The association is a nonprofit law firm that provides legal assistance to people who are charged with crimes. It filed an answer to Tausinga's complaint on Aug. 18 by listing 20 different affirmative defenses and responded to each paragraph of the complaint. The association denied many of the allegations and reiterated that Tausinga will have the burden to prove his claims in this type of case.

Tausinga's discrimination claims

The complaint said a company meeting highlighted each division except the one Tausinga led, causing him embarrassment. It also said aides were moved away from his department and were not replaced and concerns about understaffing in his division were ignored.

Tausinga also said he was excluded from a performance evaluation meeting for one of his employees, when other division leads were not, and he did not have access to monitoring software.

The lawsuit says that when he reported these issues, the assistant director of human resources appeared offended and refused to accept the report. Afterward, Tausinga said she "refused to talk to him about necessary work matters" and instead talked to his assistant. She also began to attend his team meetings and questioned staff members there, which she did not do with other departments, the lawsuit claims.

The executive director also did not report the alleged discrimination, rejecting Tausinga's complaint to him, the lawsuit says.

"I'm sorry that you feel the way you do. I really am but you have not given me anything that would suggest to me that there's anything that has gone wrong or that is out of order or that is in any way discriminatory," the director said, according to the complaint.

Tausinga is seeking money for lost wages, payment for future work he would have done if his health was not impacted, money for emotional distress and reputational damage and attorney fees based on harassment and retaliation he claims he received.

Tausinga also claimed another employee was racially discriminated against as well.

He said the association passed this employee up for a position he was more qualified for than the candidate they chose, denied him a raise after receiving a master's degree and declined to approve a laptop when other employees were issued one during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The other employee resigned two days after Tausinga did; the complaint said his resignation was due to constant discrimination.