Tailhook Scandal Moves to Courtroom

THE Navy, beset by allegations of sexual harassment in its ranks, now faces multimillion-dollar damage claims from four women who say they were assaulted by drunken aviators at last year's Tailhook convention.

In the first legal action resulting from the Tailhook scandal, the women also filed separate lawsuits Tuesday against Hilton Hotels and the Tailhook Association, accusing them of negligence for allowing the sexual attacks to take place.

The four were among more than 25 women, including at least a dozen Navy officers, who told Navy investigators they were groped and fondled by a mob of drunken, cheering aviators on Sept. 7, 1991, in a crowded hallway at the Las Vegas Hilton.

Las Vegas lawyer Cal Potter said Tuesday the four filed federal tort claims with the Navy Department last Wednesday in which each sought more than $2.5 million in damages.

The women said they were victims of battery, sexual assault, and sexual harassment at last year's convention, and said they had suffered emotional distress and mental anguish at the convention, Mr. Potter said.

In civil suits filed Tuesday in Las Vegas Superior Court, the women blamed Hilton Hotels and Tailhook, once America's most prestigious military aviators' club, for failing to provide adequate security for guests at the convention.

According to court documents, each plaintiff is seeking in excess of $10,000 apiece from Hilton and Tailhook, the highest amount they are allowed to stipulate under Nevada state law. But, once the case goes to court, a Nevada jury has the power to award much larger damages.

The Defense Department has launched an investigation targeting hundreds of Navy and Marine fliers.

The Tailhook scandal also has brought the Navy under fire for tolerating sexual harassment in its ranks.

Navy Secretary H. Lawrence Garrett III was forced to resign soon after the Tailhook allegations came to light.

At bases around the country, women officers and enlisted personnel have been emboldened to bring sexual harassment charges against their superiors.

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