Woman sues Toyota, claiming harassment by executive

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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 repeatedly alone together, had her accompany him to social functions, and physically groped her at a Washington D.C. 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.

A Toyota North America spokesman declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday, saying it was still being reviewed by lawyers. Otaka did not immediately return a phone message left at his office in New York.

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 U.S., 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, who lives in New York, began her career with Toyota in 1997 in Michigan. She said she was “perplexed” at being offered the job as Otaka’s executive assistant; She had no experience doing secretarial work and only knew him because they worked in the same office building.

Within several months, he began arranging for her to accompany him on business trips, buying her gifts, and attempting to pressure her into an affair, she said.

She said she complained to Toyota in November of 2005.

“I come to work with anxiety and pray that Mr. Otaka will not ask me to accompany him to another lunch, another dinner, another business trip or make comments about my personal life,” she wrote in a letter to a Toyota senior vice president.

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

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