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Settlement reached in age bias complaint

Maui County has agreed to pay $24,000 in damages and to enter into a three-year consent decree to settle an age discrimination lawsuit that alleged the Maui Police Department failed to hire a qualified 45-year-old Hawaii resident as a police officer.

A 2013 federal lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charged that the Police Department violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act by failing to hire Lars Sandstrom because of his age. The act applies to people 40 and older.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Kevin Chang approved the settlement Monday. The federal agency announced it Tuesday.

According to the federal commission, Sandstrom applied for a Maui police officer position and met all of the qualifications, including a bachelor’s degree, three years of military service and serving four years with the National Guard.

Sandstrom also scored highly on his written exam. But Sandstrom was not selected for the position even though other less-qualified, younger candidates were hired around the same time.

Sandstrom applied to the department in March 2009. During his interview, he heard “multiple disparaging age-based remarks,” including, “I doubt someone your age could handle the stress of training,” according to the lawsuit filed on his behalf.

Other concerns included whether Sandstrom could take directives from younger officers.

Sandstrom was a certified master fitness trainer at the U.S. Army Physical Fitness School and was hired by the Honolulu Police Department in July 2010.

The consent decree requires the Police Department to designate an equal employment opportunity monitor to ensure the department’s compliance with the federal age discrimination law and anti-discrimination policies and procedures.

The decree also mandates a complaint process and impartial investigations as well as a centralized tracking system for discrimination complaints and provisions holding employees accountable for discrimination. Annual training on age-based discrimination and retaliation will be provided for all employees, especially those involved in human resources and at the supervisory level, to educate them on their rights and responsibilities on age discrimination. The aim is to prevent and deter discriminatory practices.

“Employers need to be mindful of the negative stereotypes and inaccurate assumptions made about the abilities of older workers,” said Anna Park, regional attorney for equal employment commission’s Los Angeles District, which includes Hawaii. “Such stereotypes have no place in the employment decision-making process. Today’s settlement sends a strong and powerful message to all employers, public and private sector alike, that equal employment opportunity extends to all, regardless of age.”

Glory Gervacio Saure, local director of commission’s Honolulu office, said age discrimination remains a problem, making up 19 percent of all of the commission’s charges filed in Hawaii last year.

“This settlement reinforces EEOC’s steadfast commitment to ensuring that workers who are unjustly discriminated due to age have recourse,” she said.

Maui County spokesman Rod Antone said: “The Maui Police Department is firmly committed to complying with all laws and training to ensure compliance with those laws. To that extent, it has willingly agreed to a consent decree in order to bring this matter to conclusion without the need for extensive litigation. As such, this settlement is beneficial to both sides.”

The decree notes that the events underlying the complaint occurred under an administration prior to current police Chief Tivoli Faaumu, who was sworn into office in November 2014.

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