Former lifeguard’s lawsuit dismissed

LIHUE — A Fifth Circuit Court judge on Wednesday dismissed a lawsuit brought by a former firefighter, alleging his supervisors in the Kauai Fire Department threatened and retaliated against him for testifying about their alleged misconduct.

Myles Emura, a former officer in the KFD’s Ocean Safety Bureau, filed a civil suit against his employer in 2012, claiming his supervisors began harassing him shortly after he was called before the Kauai County Board of Ethics to testify about allegations that his fellow firefighters were using the department’s equipment to run their own private business.

According to Emura, when his two immediate supervisors found out about his testimony they started filing complaints and writing him up for “every little thing.” Emura said he was subjected to frequent drug tests and claimed one of the supervisors told coworkers Emura had “stabbed him in the back” and planned to quit scheduling him for overtime.

The lawsuit says Emura developed a stress-related disability due to the hostile workplace environment, which forced him to file a workers compensation claim and take a leave of absence, which ultimately led to his termination from the department a year later.

In an interview Thursday, Emura said he decided to sue the KFD and his supervisors after attempts to resolve the issue in-house failed. The Hawaii Government Employees Association refused to pursue Emura’s dispute with KFD leadership through arbitration, and inquiries into the matter of misappropriated KFD resources turned up nothing substantial.

An internal KFD investigation into the allegations of firefighter misconduct found no wrongdoing on behalf of its employees, and the county ethics board reached a similar conclusion.

Emura maintains that both investigations were questionable at best and said the ethics board’s inquiries consisted of nothing more than a handful of interviews with the firefighters involved.

A separate, nearly-identical lawsuit was filed in 2014 by Carl Ragasa, a former coworker of Emura’s, who sued the department and his supervisors in federal court, alleging he was the target of “a campaign of retaliatory harassment.”

Ragasa also claimed he was subjected to retaliation after reporting misconduct by the same two KFD supervisors named in Emura’s lawsuit, alleging they used KFD equipment to run their side business, stole gas from the department, used drugs on the job and falsified time sheets. That case was ultimately settled before trial for an undisclosed amount in 2016.

Emura’s civil claim, although filed two years prior to Ragasa’s, languished in Kauai’s Fifth Circuit Court for years. According to Emura, the case was delayed in part by his own attorney, who he said was less than enthusiastic and abandoned him entirely five years into pretrial litigation.

Court hearings were further set back by a dispute between Emura and the government employees union over its refusal to pursue his grievance, claiming the union did not fairly conduct an investigation into the matter. The Hawaii Labor Relations Board approved Emura’s workers compensation claim but later dismissed Emura’s complaint against the union.

At Wednesday’s court hearing, Emura’s attorney, John Murphy, attempted to convince the judge that his client deserved to have his case heard at trial.

“I’m saying that all the evidence in the record shows that an employer threatened an employee regarding the terms, conditions and privileges of his employment,” Murphy said, citing the relevant state statute protecting workers from retaliation.

Kauai’s deputy county attorney, Adam Roversi, described Emura’s retaliation claims as “petty disagreements” and said the allegations, even if true, “simply do not rise to the level” of workplace disputes covered by the Whistleblower Protection Act, a federal law the protects workers who speak out against misconduct by their employers.

Roversi called Emura’s allegations regarding threats of decreased overtime into question, pointing out that Emura continued to receive a substantial amount of overtime during the period in which he claims to have been suffering retaliation.

Murphy argued that it didn’t matter whether the threat was carried out or not, citing case law showing that the threat itself was enough to create a stressful workplace environment.

“So over the course of his lifetime, we have an expert who came up with the calculation that it cost him $200,000 that he would have made had he gone on and retired at his normal time,” Murphy said, explaining that his client’s work injury was “a direct result” of the retaliation.

“And I can’t see anybody seeing it any other way,” Murphy said.

Fifth Circuit Judge Kathleen Watanabe saw it another way. She granted the county’s motion for summary judgment against Emura, dismissing the lawsuit and finally putting an end to a case that had dragged on for nearly seven years.

Emura, now retired, said he is considering appealing the court’s decision but doubts he can afford to pay an attorney to take on his case.

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Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or cloehrer@thegardenisland.com.

6 Comments
  1. Imua44 April 12, 2019 3:50 am Reply

    Didn’t rise to level….they stole gas , used county property for personal business and cut a mans hours? And now they all get big raises and the working man is screwed. There is way more to this story. No one ever talks about county misuse of assets.


  2. ToAll April 12, 2019 4:05 am Reply

    This is to all of you who have county and state complaints and lawsuits, go the federal route.

    HIOSH and Hawaii Civil Rights Commission sabotaged my case and withheld or destroyed evidence. His is after HIOSH found a legitimate complaint and substantiated the complaint with evidence supporting. I was then retaliated against and the company refused to submit required documentation and they were able to use hearsay as their evidence.

    The state and county has no integrity. They committed crimes by destroying records to cover up their actions.

    HIOSH said it was retaliation by the company but could not do anything about it.

    HCRC investigator said it was retaliation but his supervisor left out evidence because the company is a well known company in the state that has a lot of influence.

    So to all, if you have a complaint, criminal complaint, or civil action; the best route is to file federal paperwork. The state and counties are incompetents.


  3. Charlie Chimknee April 12, 2019 7:35 am Reply

    Aloha Kakou, and Condolences to Mr. Emura, he obviously wasn’t the 1st (Hmmm…Mr. Ragasa took his case to Federal Court, could that have spelled the difference in Mr. Emura’s loss), but this type of evil thing happens a lot and much worse on not only Kauai but world wide. Snakes slither hither and thither everywhere…!

    But perhaps we should know more why Mr. Emura’s attorney abandoned him…but more importantly “what was his name?”.

    Would we expect a doctor to abandon his/her patient when the case appears fatal…after all it was the attorney who walked the client down the Garden Path to a ruined case and a setback in life.

    Can we get the lawyer’s name please…just think of it as “Name that Tune…! Was it “Zippidy Do Dah…?” With offices in LIHUE and HONOLULU.

    Charlie


  4. M. Caso April 12, 2019 8:02 am Reply

    It’s unfortunate to see read that the lifeguards still have to endure an egotistical director, Mr. Kalani Vierra himself. How many lawsuits will have to be brought against the department before any changes happen?? His retaliation is always fueled against those lifeguards who stand up for what is right or fair. Sadly with the dismissal of this case, the unfair treatment and his egotistical ways will continue.


  5. Joe Public April 12, 2019 10:05 am Reply

    In this case, the court made the right decision. Emura was a below average employee and a known drug user


  6. LooksLike April 12, 2019 2:59 pm Reply

    Kauai lifeguards have serious theft and drug problems. The theft scheme was widely known as the fish for gas for using tax payers property for illegal activities. The Mayor at the time was getting fish and many ore county employees. It’s was widely known amongst county employees and people who knew about the theft ring.

    Why aren’t there any random drug tests by an independent contractor. The state and county warns its employees when a drug test will occur and they know how to beat it or call in sick. This is also a known practice by those who know the truth.

    This is another cover up public corruption case that will never see its day in court because of judicial corruption. Now these people want over 10-15% raises after they got 10-15% raises in 2018. Look it up on TGI and they cut and paste the same argument for the county wanting pay raises.

    Why are they drug tested by random out of state contractors? Just look at some of those lifeguards and you can tell that they are strung out chronics.

    These crooked chronics running public safety depts is one of the main problems people do not trust county and state government and its employees.


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