Over the past six years, Big Island resident James Johnson said he was interviewed 61 times for a permanent teaching job, only to be rejected each time.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court, the 70-year-old substitute teacher is accusing the state Department of Education of age and race discrimination. He says one fellow teacher gave him this explanation for his failure to get job:
"He says why are you surprised you haven't been able to get a job? You have three strikes against you: You're old, you're white and you're male."
Eric Seitz, Johnson's attorney, said in several instances his client was the only candidate to make the interview list but still was not selected.
"The DOE is one of the most discriminatory agencies in the state of Hawaii," he said.
"If you go to Big Island, you can count on the fingers of two hands, the numbers of Caucasians who are hired to teach in the Department of Education."
Prior to moving to Hawaii in 2001, Johnson worked as a newspaper editor in Tahiti, taught courses on celestial navigation in community colleges in Micronesia and Oregon and authored a textbook on that subject.
He also was a member on the Clackamas (Oregon) Community College's Board of Education and was a chair of the policy council of Big Island's Head Start program.
He received his Hawaii teaching credentials in 2006.
Johnson said he struggles to make ends meet on his substitute teacher's salary of $20,000. He says he has wracked up more than $10,000 in debts attempting to get his teaching credentials.
"In almost 40 years of representing teachers, I've never heard of a case that was more egregious that this one," said Joan Husted, former executive director of the Hawaii State Teachers Association.
The DOE denies that it discriminated against Johnson and said they reason he didn't get hired is that he doesn't score well in his verbal interviews.
The department sought to dismiss Johnson's lawsuit but U.S. District Judge Alan Kay earlier this week ruled that he can proceed with the suit.
Should Johnson win his case, Seitz said the state could be liable for millions of dollars in damages.
"There are lot of people who have been hired for positions that he's interviewed for that have far less qualifications than he and that's just simply outrageous," Seitz said.