Maui County settles discrimination suit

Complaint alleges disabled county worker did not get reasonable accommodation

A disability discrimination case has been settled between Maui County and the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, according to an announcement Wednesday.

The case stems from a complaint alleging the denial of a reasonable accommodation for an employee with a disability. The settlement announcement leaves many details out, such as the employee’s identity, her disability and the department that employs her.

The terms of the settlement also were not fully disclosed, including the “monetary relief” the county is paying to the complainant.

The announcement says it’s a “no-fault settlement” that provides for the commission to review Maui County’s nondiscrimination policy and to make revisions as deemed necessary. It also provides for nondiscrimination training for county employees “with a specific focus on disability discrimination.”

“All parties may now move forward and avoid the time and expense of extensive litigation,” the announcement says.

Commission Executive Director William Hoshijo said via email Wednesday that he could not provide much information beyond what was provided in the news release.

“The complaint was settled in conciliation, after investigation and a determination that there was reasonable cause to believe that unlawful discrimination had occurred, but before the case was docketed for hearing,” he said. In the commission’s “administrative process, cases are confidential in the investigation and conciliation stages, and public after docketing.

“In this case, the conciliation settlement agreement provided for a mutually agreed upon press release,” Hoshijo said. “I cannot provide additional information that is not included in the press release, such as the underlying facts or relief not covered in the press release.”

In the past two years, at least two cases involving former county employee complaints with the Civil Rights Commission have come before the Maui County Council Parks, Recreation, Energy and Legal Affairs Committee and the Committee of the Whole, according to a review of committee agendas and minutes.

One case filed on March 11, 2014, involved a former employee and the Department of Finance’s Division of Motor Vehicles and Licensing. The other case filed on Aug. 4, 2016, involved a former Maui Police Department officer alleging discrimination by the department concerning her pregnancy.

In the commission’s settlement announcement, Hoshijo commended Maui County “for agreeing to review its current policies and training to prevent and eliminate discrimination and promote equal opportunity for all in county employment, regardless of disability.”

Maui County equal employment opportunity specialist Ralph Thomas said: “It has always been the County of Maui’s policy to provide reasonable accommodations training to employees and managers so they have the information needed to address any physical or mental disabilities they may encounter while employed with the County of Maui. This settlement reaffirms that commitment.”

According to the announcement, the case involved a longtime county employee who claimed she was denied a reasonable accommodation in the workplace.

“The employee’s doctor requested the elimination or reassignment of a job function, and the requested accommodation was initially granted to the employee,” the announcement says. “However, the employee’s request for an accommodation was eventually denied.”

The case was settled after a commission finding of reasonable cause but before a final decision was issued by the commission.

There’s no admission of wrongdoing by Maui County.

Under Hawaii law, an employee with a disability may request a reasonable accommodation, which is an adjustment or change needed to allow the employee to perform the essential functions of the job. Managers and supervisors should be trained to distinguish between the essential and marginal functions of the job when considering a request for a reasonable accommodation, according to the announcement.

If there is a request for an accommodation, the employer must start an “interactive process” with the employee to determine what, if any, accommodation can be provided.

“Communication between the employer and employee during the interactive process is essential,” the announcement says. “The parties should identify the precise limitations resulting from the disability that impact job performance, whether an adjustment or change is needed to allow the employee with a disability to perform the essential job functions, and if any alternative accommodations may be effective in meeting the employee’s needs.”

An employer’s reasonable accommodation for an employee in the workplace is not preferential treatment, the announcement says.

“Rather, it allows an individual with a disability to perform the essential functions of the position,” it says. “The employee with a disability is not entitled to his/her preferred accommodation if the employer has identified an alternative reasonable accommodation that also effectively allows the employee to perform the essential functions of the job.”

And, an employer may deny a proposed accommodation by showing that it would impose an undue hardship on business operations.

The commission enforces state civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, public accommodations and state-funded services.

People who believe they’ve been subjected to discrimination may contact the commission at (808) 586-8636 or dlir.hcrc.infor@hawaii.gov. For information about employment discrimination, go to labor.hawaii.gov/hcrc.

* Brian Perry can be reached at bperry@mauinews.com.

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