3 TSA whistleblowers in Hawaii who got reassigned awarded $1M settlement

3 TSA whistleblowers spoke up and got reassigned. Now, they won a $1M settlement

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Three Transportation Security Administration employees in Hawaii who were abruptly reassigned to mainland positions have been awarded a total of $1 million dollars by a federal investigative agency.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel said the TSA retaliated against the three over concerns regarding security and management problems at Hawaii airports.

Heather Callaghan Chuck was deputy director in charge of operations in Honolulu, while lifelong Kauai resident Sharlene Mata was in charge of neighbor island airports. The two found 15 types of security vulnerabilities and management deficiencies at Hawaii airports when they took over in early 2014.

"They weren't un-fixable, they were fixable. And quite frankly, readily fixable," said Callaghan Chuck. "And when we started reporting those, then all of a sudden we started getting negative repercussions from management instead of support.

A third TSA employee, Frank Abreu, also ran afoul of management.

"He stood up when the manager said he wanted Frank to make a complaint that the two women had been disrespectful to the senior manager, and he said he wouldn't because it wasn't true," said Elbridge Smith, attorney for Callaghan Chuck and Mata.

The TSA then abruptly reassigned all three on one business day's notice.

"We were literally called into a conference room one day, and we were told that within one business day, we would be relocating to three separate locations," Callaghan Chuck recalled. "One was sent to Burbank, California -- Frank was -- Shar was sent to Seattle, Washington, and I was sent to Los Angeles."

"That was the biggest challenge, to move out of my island home and separate from my community, essentially the only home I knew," Mata said by phone from Lihue, where she was visiting family.

The TSA has agreed to pay a total of $1 million to the three, along with their moving and other expenses. Abreu and Mata will also be returned to comparable positions in Hawaii.

The TSA also has discontinued its discretionary practice of involuntary geographic reassignments, and has created an internal training program on whistleblower retaliation.

Callaghan Chuck resigned from the TSA, but is happy with the settlement.

"The intention was always to make traveling safer for the public, and to make sure that taxpayer dollars were being spent appropriately, and to do our jobs," she said. "That was the intention."

Copyright 2018 Hawaii News Now. All rights reserved.