Paula Coughlin, now also known as Paula Puopolo, was a Lieutenant naval aviator in the United States Navy. She was a whistleblower who played a role in opening investigations into what was known as the "Tailhook scandal".
Coughlin attended Old Dominion University, where she joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps. She joined the navy in 1984 and became a helicopter pilot.
She attended the Tailhook conference in September 1991, organized by former navy aviators at the Las Vegas Hilton. Many of the attendees got raucously drunk. Coughlin was one of the first female attendees who reported being indecently assaulted by male attendees. Coughlin testified she feared being gang-raped when she was forced to "run the gauntlet". She had reported the incident to senior officers, but after a lack of progress due to "closing ranks and obfuscation" she went public in June 1992. The President, George H.W. Bush, met with Coughlin and expressed sympathy with her and promised a full investigation. Coughlin met with Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney—who told her he had just fired the Secretary of the Navy, implying it was her fault. She resigned from the Navy in February 1994, after being subject to abuse in retaliation for her allegations. She settled out of court with the Tailhook Association in October 1994, and was awarded $5.3 million in damages from the hotel after a jury concluded that the Las Vegas Hilton hotel had been negligent in not providing adequate security at the Tailhook convention.
A May 1995 made-for-television movie broadcast on ABC was based on Coughlin's story, though she was not involved in making it.
After separating from the Navy, Coughlin married Joe Puopolo and opened a yoga center in Atlantic Beach, Florida.
in 2012, Coughlin was speaking for Protect Our Defenders, a nonprofit civil rights organization that supports victims of sexual assault in the United States military. She was featured in a Retro Report documentary called The Legacy of Tailhook and the Academy Award-nominated documentary on the subject, The Invisible War.