LIHUE — A deputy county attorney was fired earlier this month and says she may sue the county for retaliation and workplace discrimination.
Prior to her termination from the Kauai County Attorney’s Office, Maryann Sasaki had been handling multiple civil court cases on behalf of the county in its attempt to shut down a group of short-term vacation rental property owners.
She left the position after receiving a memo, dated Sept. 4, from Kauai County Attorney Matthew Bracken that began, “Your appointment as a Deputy County Attorney is over.”
Sasaki’s employment officially ended Sept. 13, according to a county spokesperson, who declined to provide further information on the matter.
In the memo, Bracken spelled out his justification for firing Sasaki, saying she failed to adequately represent the county in its legal battle against the owners of six transient vacation rentals that county planning department officials accused of operating in violation of county zoning ordinances.
Bracken’s letter came roughly a month after a court hearing in August, when Fifth Circuit Judge Kathleen Watanabe questioned Sasaki about “confusion within the planning department and the county attorney’s office” and repeatedly returned to the subject of a mistake made by planning officials, which Watanabe described as “pretty amazing” and “really embarrassing.”
Watanabe later ruled in favor of the homeowners on procedural due process grounds, according to court documents in a related lawsuit the county brought against the vacation rental operations in federal court.
According to Bracken’s memo, Sasaki was dismissed due to what he described as “legal malpractice,” but Sasaki insists that she is still technically a county employee, despite the fact that she left the county attorney’s office weeks ago and is no longer on the island.
“I have not been terminated,” Sasaki said via text message Monday.
She also said Bracken’s memo, which she described as “a threat,” was little more than a bargaining tactic in ongoing negotiations over the terms of her severance.
Sasaki said she has retained an attorney and “will go forward with a legal action if we do not settle this amicably,” adding that she is already filing a claim with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a federal agency that administers and enforces civil rights laws against workplace discrimination.
“This was a retaliatory termination for a discrimination complaint. That is what happened,” Sasaki wrote. “What the county has done is illegal.”
The Garden Island recently obtained Sasaki’s Sept. 4 “Notice of End of Appointment,” along with a letter of reprimand from Bracken, dated Aug. 23, from a confidential source — Sasaki ignored repeated requests from TGI for copies of the internal documents over the past two weeks, and, until Monday, declined to comment on the matter beyond a single text message referencing “discrimination or maladministration.”
A county spokesperson asked that this article contain a statement making it clear that Bracken’s memos, or any other “personnel information” were not “disclosed by the county.”
“My concern here — and subsequent request — is that if the alleged complainant is not the source of the information below, and the apparent source is not being divulged, readers could wrongfully assume that the information was provided by the county,” the spokesperson said in an email.
The County of Kauai did not disclose any personnel information to TGI.