Tami Silicio and Amy Katz, two Seattle area women who filed sexual harassment charges against military contractor Halliburton during the war in Kosovo, are once again in the news for a brave whistleblowing act.
Until this week, Tami Silicio was working for another military contractor, Maytag Air, handling military cargo shipments in and our of Iraq. Last Sunday the Seattle Times published a photograph Silicio snapped of flag-draped coffins of US soldiers returning home on a Maytag jet. The publication cost her and her husband their jobs after US military officials complained to Maytag about the photo, which violated a Pentagon ban on showing the bodies of US soldiers killed in Iraq.
Amy Katz helped deliver Silicio's controversial photograph to the Seattle Times. The photo's nationwide publication fanned the flames of editors' increasingly vocal protests over the no-coffins photo ban. Many other newspapers also ran the photograph, and later in the week, the Air Force responded to a Freedom of Information Act request by releasing additional photos of returning soldiers' caskets.
During the Kosovo war, both Katz and Silicio were employed by Halliburton subsidiary Brown and Root - Katz as a human relations officer and Silicio as a truck driver. Halliburton was contracted to provide support services to military personnel. Katz and Silicio filed suit together after the conflict, detailing allegations of sexual harassment against the company. The suit named Halliburton and then-CEO Dick Cheney.
As reported at the time in the San Diego Jewish-Press Heritage (22 Sept. 2000), Katz filed a complaint with the company about its discriminatory practice of forcing local Kosovars to use separate toilets from Americans. She said that these complaints, along with other complaints about sexist jokes which a male supervisor was distributing over company email, led to company retaliation.
According to the Jewish-Press Heritage coverage, Silicio said she was targeted after refusing sexual propositions from co-workers. "They started calling her names like 'bitch' and 'whore,' according to a complaint filed with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission. Additionally, the coworkers told her 'you should be at home pleasing a man and not at work trying to be one.'" Silicio was fired after reporting the incidents.
In the wake of the Seattle Times' publication of Silicio's photo, she and her family have become the focus of national media attention. Silicio's mother told reporters that "This was not done as an anti-war thing... it was done to show families the total respect and honor shown to their sons who are leaving Kuwait."
At the same time, Seattle right-wing talk radio station KTTH has seized upon Silicio and Katz's sexual harassment case against Halliburton, attempting to make their motivations the issue rather than the US government's embarassment over soldiers' deaths. KTTH host Mike Siegel insinuated that the pair's recent actions were motivated by a political grudge against Cheney, and chastized the Times for not looking into the women's past. Other right- wing outlets were picking up the story as of Friday morning.