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Former worker slaps county with $1.63M discrimination suit

Robert Straub alleges he was fired when 71 years old and replaced by ‘substantially younger person’

A former Maui County employee has filed a federal discrimination complaint against Maui County, alleging, among other charges, age discrimination when he was terminated early this year at 71 years old and replaced by a “substantially younger person.”

In a complaint filed Friday in Hawaii U.S. District Court, Robert Straub seeks $1.63 million in compensatory and other damages. He demands a jury trial.

Maui County spokesman Rod Antone said the county had no comment Tuesday because the matter is pending litigation.

In his complaint, Straub alleges he was fired Jan. 27 from his job at the Maui County Business Resource Center four days after he returned from a leave of absence to care for his wife who suffers from a chronic illness. The termination was done “in retaliation for taking the leave,” the complaint says.

Also, the Mayor’s Office advised Straub that it would no longer buy softball equipment and T-shirts from his Ultra Hawaii business because he had filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, it says.

The complaint says Straub, a 16-year county employee, was told there were “budget issues” involved in his firing, “but a higher-paid replacement took his job.”

The business resource center has the same number of employees it did before Straub was terminated, the complaint says. Many county employees received a 12 percent pay raise, retroactive to July 2016, it says.

Office of Economic Development Director Teena Rasmussen fired Straub on Jan. 27, making the termination effective Jan. 31.

On Tuesday afternoon, Rasmussen said she was unable to comment on the complaint.

It says Straub, the former office manager for Mayor Alan Arakawa, approached chief of staff Herman Andaya and Arakawa after he was fired from his job at the business resource center, “and both denied having any involvement in the decision to terminate him and supported him remaining employed in the mayor’s office.”

“Rasmussen told others in the Department of Economic Development that she didn’t want people to be off the job for more than two weeks, and (Straub) was gone for 30 days,” the complaint says.

It says the mayor’s sister-in-law, Karen Arakawa, Straub’s former boss and manager of the business resource center, “told others that the county could not buy T-shirts from plaintiff’s company this year, as they had for the past six years, because of plaintiff’s claims against the county.”

The complaint charges four counts, each seeking monetary damages:

• $480,000 in compensatory and liquidated damages, including damage for emotional distress, plus interest, costs and attorneys’ fees for a violation of Family Leave Act protections because he was terminated four days after returning from a leave of absence.

• $275,000 in compensatory and punitive damages for the county’s termination of purchasing softball equipment and T-shirts in retaliation for Straub exercising his Family Leave Act rights.

• $425,000 in compensatory damages for terminating Straub because of his association with a disabled person in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act amendments.

• $450,000 in compensatory and liquidated damages, including damage for emotional distress, for age discrimination for being fired and replaced by a younger person in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

Straub is represented by attorney Russell Kelm who has law offices in Wailuku and Columbus, Ohio.

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

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