Wednesday, December 10, 2008


SNIFFING IT OUT: The publication of Anthony Sommer’s book KPD Blue has lifted the veil on racial bias if not systemic racism in Kaua`i county government.

But arguments over the role that race has in hiring and the daily provision of services in not just the police department but all county departments has almost overshadowed also pervasive gender bias.

A recently filed lawsuit has refocused attention in what appears to be not just a blatant case of gender bias but the lackadaisical response by the county to the complaints which led to the lawsuit being filed.

Bus driver Kathleen M. Ah Quin is suing the Kaua`i Department of Transpiration- specifically Executive on Transportation Janine Rapozo- for what appears to be a pervasive hostile atmosphere in the agency toward women.

Just as appalling as the actual discrimination is the fact the lawsuit was filed only because a year went by after Ah Quin’s filing of Hawai`i Civil Rights Commission (HCRC) and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaints without any attempt by the county to respond or even attempt to investigate the charges.

At a special council meeting called at the end of November the County Attorney at the time Matthew Pyun asked the council for $50,000 to hire an outside attorney to respond to the suit.

And outgoing councilpersons Shaylene Iseri Carvalho and Mel Rapozo (no relation) were livid.

“You’ve got to read this” shrieked Iseri waving a copy of the suit over her head. “The County Attorney’s office has not engaged in any investigation (for a year) and now wants to hire an investigator” when there’s only 20 days to respond.

She told the council that she would not use taxpayer money without a commitment to investigate complaints when they are filed, saying she was “disgusted” and how the situation was “typical of the wasteful spending” of the administration and specifically the county attorney’s office.

She also questioned why it would cost $50,000 to respond since the first 20 day response is really a pro-forma type of thing that should rightfully be done “in-house” before hiring an outside attorney if it becomes necessary to defend the suit.

Councilmember Rapozo- who with Iseri voted against the approval of the funds even after the request was amended to $20,000- described how no one with the county ever spoke to any of the employees names in the suit or investigated any of the incidents.

The complaint itself depicts a transportation agency where females were routinely passed over for full time jobs because, as Ah Quin was told by another named female employee, Janine Rapozo “doesn’t like females” after Rapozo had ordered the employee to “keep her door closed” when she was working as a dispatcher because male drivers would stop by to talk to her.

That employee wasn’t the only one to warn Ah Quin. According to the suit another named female bus driver also told her to watch out for Rapozo because “likes her males, she does not like females”.

There are only three female employees in the agency and 17 males according to the suit.

Despite 11 years of experience and her more than adequate licensing it seems Ah Quin couldn’t get promoted to a full time position while men were given the jobs when they opened up.

The suit describes many incidents where despite the fact that her qualification surpassed theirs, Rapozo hired or promoted men to full time positions passing up Ah Quin and other women.

It also tells how on occasion drivers were brought in from outside the department and even county government itself to fill the full time positions in violation of standard county personnel department policy.

Ah Quin goes on to list eight males who were promoted over her as well as other incidents and examples of Rapozo’s gender bias.

When Ah Quin began to question why, despite a gleaming job performance evaluation she was passed up for promotion Rapozo started to engage in a program of retaliation, according to the suit by cutting Ah Quin’s hours.

Incidents described include one where passenger complaints was treated differently when filed against male drivers and another of a reprimand of Ah Quin for wearing her uniform shirt from another part time driving job while male employees similarly attired went unchallenged.

Ah Quin says she finally asked Rapozo “why don’t you like me. You never did like me. You keep ignoring me. You ignore me in the office. I keep asking myself what did I do to you? I know you don’t like me”.

Rapozo allegedly replied “because I have had problems with every female driver that has been hired.”

The suit also lists incidents where other named female drivers were harassed in a similar manner as well as misrepresentations by Rapozo as the fact that there was "no money in the budget” for expanding hours – a statement followed immediately by ads in the newspaper soliciting new drivers.

In another, Rapozo scolded Ah Quin for not picking up a person who was sitting in a wheelchair in front of the gift shop at Wilcox hospital which was not a designated bus stop, telling her she should have stopped the bus, gotten out and asked the person if they wanted to board the bus.

Ah Quin responded that there are persons in wheel chairs all over the place all the time around the hospital and that she was never told to stop, get out and ask each one if they needed the bus.

Rapozo has been a long-time, loyal, appointed crony in the past two administrations and has been shifted around various jobs before landing in the transportation agency overseeing the Kaua`i Bus.

To no one’s surprise she was retained in her position by Mayor Bernard Carvalho when he took office this month without any investigation of the complaints or lawsuit.

The lawsuit- Kathleen M. Ah Quin vs. County of Kaua`i Department of Transportation et. al.- was filed November 10 in Federal District Court, Civil # C V 080057 and demands a jury trial.

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