EXCLUSIVE: State firing Kulani prison warden

EXCLUSIVE: State firing Kulani prison warden

HILO, BIG ISLAND (HawaiiNewsNow) - In a rare if not unprecedented move, the state is firing the warden of Kulani Prison on the Big Island following a 10-month investigation.

But the lawyer for Ruth Forbes said she's the victim of gender discrimination and retaliation, since some of the employees who made complaints against her were disciplined for wrongdoing.

Forbes oversaw the reopening of Kulani Prison in July 2014. A little more than six months later, prisons officials put her on leave without pay and started an investigation into whether she created a "hostile work environment."

Following department procedure, after 30 days of unpaid leave, Forbes remained on paid leave for nine months, until she was notified this week that she will be fired, effective December 18.

Her monthly pay ranges from $6,468 to $8,969, prisons officials said.

"From the beginning to the end, the procedures, the investigation, everything the department did was flawed," said Ted Hong, the Hilo attorney representing Forbes, who is appealing her firing.

Hong said his client -- who was named the state Public Safety employee of the year in 2011 -- is the victim of gender discrimination.

"This department, has a standard pattern of practice, a history of discriminating against women in these kinds of higher managerial capacities," Hong said.

Hong also said prisons officials relied on complaints against Forbes filed by employees who faced discipline for misbehavior or bad performance, including a corrections supervisor who quit earlier this year when she was under investigation for having improper contact with male inmates at Kulani.

"The department overreacted intentionally by taking the complaints of disgruntled employees who were retaliating against her because my client was holding them accountable to a higher standard of conduct," Hong added.

Hong said the investigation found Forbes was guilty of 40 alleged infractions of departmental rules.

"The sheer number of minor infractions indicates to me that the department is trying to find any reason to get rid of her," Hong said.

A prisons spokeswoman said she could not comment on the case until all internal appeals have been exhausted.

Forbes' attorney expects to challenge her termination before the state Merit Appeals Board, which hears cases involving state government managers.

Hong also plans to file cases with the Civil Rights Commission and the state Labor Board.

Hong said he was hired by the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the union that represents state government managers, to represent both Forbes and her union.

During former Gov. Linda Lingle's administration, Hong served as the state's lead union negotiator, and was often at odds with HGEA and other public unions.

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