Wrongful schools termination cases costing $418K - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Wrongful schools termination cases costing $418K

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

State taxpayers will pay $418,500 to settle three cases of wrongful terminations of public school employees.

Some part-time employees at Mililani High School's cafeteria brought the first case. They claimed they were not hired for future work after complaining that their supervisor, the cafeteria manager, was drinking alcohol at school and falsifying payroll records. They will receive $13,500 to settle their case.

A second case involves Ross Nishi, who oversaw personnel matters at all public schools on the Big Island as the personnel regional officer.

The Department of Education terminated him in 2008 for improperly accessing the Hawaii criminal justice database for personal reasons.

"He was fired in spite of the fact that the criminal justice data people felt this was a very minor infraction," said his attorney Ted Hong, in a telephone interview from Hilo.

Hong said a DOE hearings officer found there was no proper cause to terminate Nishi, but the day after she made the ruling overturning his firing, the hearings officer also was fired.

"No one in the DOE is being held accountable for the taxpayers now having to fund this settlement," Hong said.

The DOE reinstated Nishi in May of 2014. The case has dragged on for more than six years and now taxpayers will pay him $325,000 in a settlement for back wages.

"These DOE bureaucrats now are costing the taxpayers over $300,000 which would not have to be spent if they did their jobs in the first place," Hong said.

Hong said the DOE owes his client $500,000 in back wages and benefits, but he's settling for less because he doesn't want the case to drag on another two years.

Nishi's wife was stricken with cancer and he was forced to paint houses for income while he was out of work from 2008 to 2014, Hong added.

In the third case, another schools employee, a member of the United Public Workers union, was fired in 2011 for violating the DOE's workplace violence policy. He challenged the firing and two years later an arbitrator reinstated him. So the state will pay him $80,000 in a settlement.

State lawmakers must approve these three settlements and 26 others from various state departments totaling $3 million.

Attorney Eric Seitz has represented more than 30 DOE employees over the years in various types of personnel cases. He said public schools need an ombudsman.

"Who could assist them, who could bring some fresh information and view to some of these situations, because the DOE, bureaucratically, is just impossible," Seitz said.

A spokeswoman for the DOE said the Department of Education cannot comment on any pending legal matters.

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