DOW engineer settles with county

LIHUE — A senior engineer with the Department of Water has agreed to an age discrimination settlement with the county.

Dustin Lee Moises, 33, a construction project management officer, has agreed to the terms of the $125,000 settlement. The county must also conduct discrimination training as defined by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for department heads and supervisors.

In exchange, Moises will stipulate for a dismissal of the complaint against all parties. The defendants may deny liability for any claims.

DOW manager and chief engineer Kirk Saiki said he could not comment on the case or settlement because the Department of Water was not a defendant.

“However,” Saiki added, “it should be noted that this legal process did not interfere with Mr. Moises’ quality of work and he continues to be a well-regarded employee here at the Department of Water.”

According to first deputy County Attorney Steve Hall: “Neither side admits liability or any wrong doing in this matter. Ultimately, settlement seemed to be the best decision for the parties and the taxpayers.”

Moises, represented by attorneys Clayton Ikei and Jerry Chang, filed the complaint in 5th Circuit Court on July 8, 2013. The suit alleged age discrimination against former Department of Personnel Services Director Malcolm Fernandez, along with claims of intentional infliction of emotional distress.

The complaint states that in 2010, Moises was told he should not get a higher salary because of his age. He was reallocated to the position of principal project manager with a reduction in pay, and then downgraded to a waterworks project manager.

Moises said he felt his age was taken into account in violation of Hawaii Revised Statutes. He filed a discrimination claim with the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission on July 10, 2012, to precede the civil lawsuit.

Following a series of depositions on Nov. 19 and Nov. 20, the plaintiff approached the defendants and requested that the defendants participate in settlement talks, according to the county. Both sides agreed to ask Judge Kathleen Watanabe to assist the parties in settling the case.

Watanabe granted in part, and denied in part, the county’s motion to dismiss the case on Dec. 3, 2014. Settlement discussions were held on Feb. 13.

“I am satisfied with the recent settlement as I believe the magnitude of the overall terms does provide validation,” Moises said in a prepared statement.

The agreement was a difficult decision but takes everyone involved into consideration, he added. It brings closure after several years of difficult circumstances for himself and as a provider for his spouse and two daughters.

If there was one positive outcome, Moises said it was to serve as a precedent on age discrimination toward people who are perceived to be too young. The mandatory EEOC training requirement with the settlement is to educate leadership on federally protected classes, and particularly with age discrimination, to help prevent repeat offenses.

“In addition to the training, I remain optimistic that there will be a culture that provides timely, equal employment and promotional opportunities to all present and protective County of Kauai employees,” Moises added.

Moises insisted on the no-confidentiality clause. He said it was imperative to provide transparency with the case.

Moises is a 1999 graduate of Kauai High School. He earned a degree in environmental engineering from University of Hawaii Manoa in 2004. He was hired by Kauai DOW as a licensed professional civil engineer, with a water distribution system operator’s license, and a graduate of the American Water Works Association’s comprehensive Utility Management Certificate Program.

At the DOW, Moises worked in planning, design, and construction on numerous projects leading up to manager of the construction management division. As a small, partially autonomous office, the engineers often work beyond their job description during periods of turnover, and he said DPS did not give him adequate credit for relative work and management experience.

Moises applied for a higher grade project management position in 2011. Two days later, he received a DPS letter notifying him the position was canceled.

He applied for a county advertised chief of water operations position but was told by DPS he was not qualified for lack of requisite experience. His appeal was partially granted but another applicant was hired in the interim.

Moises filed the EEOC complaint after he applied for a new construction management officer position that was downgraded and had to negotiate a $10,000 reduction in salary after he was hired.

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