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Thu, May 04, 2006 - Page 10 News List

Toyota boss accused of harassment

AP , NEW YORK

A woman has filed a lawsuit accusing a high-ranking Toyota executive of sexually harassing her when she worked as his personal assistant.

In a complaint filed in New York, the woman said Toyota Motor North America's president and chief executive officer, Hideaki Otaka, made repeated unwanted sexual advances after she began working for him last summer. She said the conduct continued until winter, when she was involuntarily transferred out of the job.

The suit said Otaka manipulated her travel and work schedules so they were alone together, had her accompany him to social functions, and physically groped her at a Washington hotel and in Central Park.

The woman, Sayaka Kobayashi, said that when she reported the inappropriate conduct to Toyota officials, they urged her to work it out privately with her married boss.

Kobayashi, 42, said that as a result of her complaints she was removed from the job and told she could either leave the company, or return to a former position in the planning department.

Toyota North America spokesman Steven Curtis declined to comment on the lawsuit on Tuesday but said Toyota had a "zero tolerance policy towards sexual harassment at all levels within the company and takes any allegations of this nature very seriously."

Otaka did not return a phone message left at his office in New York, but told the Wall Street Journal he plans to leave his post later this year to become an auditor for Toyota affiliate Daihatsu Motor Co.

Otaka said the departure was unrelated to the lawsuit, the Journal reported on its Web site. Curtis did not respond to inquiries about Otaka's future with the company.

Toyota Motor North America is a subsidiary of Toyota Motor Corp. It oversees Toyota's manufacturing and sales operations and 31,500 employees in the US, Canada and Mexico.

Otaka, 64, has worked for Toyota since 1965 in a variety of roles, including as a one-time member of Toyota Japan's board of directors.

Kobayashi is seeking at least US$40 million in damages for emotional distress and injury to her reputation, plus US$150 million in punitive damages. Toyota and Otaka are listed as defendants.

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