Board reinstates fired warden — after agreeing she harassed employees

(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

A civil service appeals board has reinstated the former warden of Kulani Correctional Facility, even though it said it found credible evidence that she created a hostile work environment.

The state Merit Appeals Board also ordered the state to pay Ruth Forbes about two years in back pay, worth anywhere between $170,000 and $290,000.

The state fired Forbes in December 2015, following a 10-month investigation.

And onlookers say the reinstatement is bizarre.

"My general gut feeling is it's a bad decision. That the merit board didn't get it right," said state Sen. Will Espero, D-Ewa Beach.

But Forbes attorney Ted Hong said the allegations "never happened" and were all made by disgruntled former and current employees.

"It's bittersweet. She's willing and ready to go back, but it wasn't a full vindication," Hong said.

In its ruling, the board upheld allegations that Forbes made many disparaging comments about workers' ethnicity and religion and that she sexually harassed about half a dozen workers.

But Hong said the findings aren't definitive.

Unlike criminal cases where crimes have to be proven beyond reasonable doubt and civil lawsuits where the standard is the preponderance of evidence, the board's findings are based on a lower standard that it merely found that the allegations are based on "credible evidence," Hong said.

"They're not saying she was guilty of anything, they're not convicting her of anything. They're not saying for an absolute surety and positively that it happened."

The state Department of Public Safety, which can appeal the decision, said it is still reviewing the ruling. Espero said reinstating Forbes will be bad for the prison's morale.

"You can't have this dark cloud over management or an administration," he said.

It's unclear how this ruling will affect a wrongful termination lawsuit filed last year. That suit will likely go to trial next year.

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