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PRESS RELEASE
9-29-11

Hawaiian Electric Company Sued by EEOC for Disability Discrimination

Applicant With Eye Condition Was Denied Meter Reader Position Despite Ability to Do the Job, Federal Agency Charges

HONOLULU -- Hawaiian Electric Company, Inc. (HECO) violated federal law when it failed to hire a job applicant into a meter reader position due to his disability, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed today against the electric distribution company, a primary energy provider in Hawaii.

According to the EEOC’s suit, a mail machine operator with HECO applied for the position of meter reader with the company in about April 2010.  The operator, who has an eye condition, was able to conduct the task of reading and recording changes in electric meters at different customer locations, according to the EEOC.  Notwithstanding, HECO denied him the position of meter reader that same month due his visual impairment.  The EEOC asserts that the operator was fully capable of performing the job duties, thus he should not have been denied hire simply because of his impairment. 

Such alleged conduct violates the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA).  The EEOC filed suit (EEOC v. Hawaiian Electric Company, Inc., Case No. CV11 00592-DAE-KSC) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement through its conciliation process.  The EEOC’s suit seeks all available relief including lost wages, front pay, compensatory damages and punitive damages for the machine operator.  Substantial remedies including policy changes and staff training are also being sought by the EEOC in order to prevent and to appropriately address future instances of disability discrimination at HECO. 

“We continue to see barriers for job candidates with physical or mental conditions and encourage employers to examine their practices to ensure all applicants are fully able to compete for jobs,” said Anna Y. Park, regional attorney for the EEOC’s Los Angeles District Office, which includes Hawaii in its jurisdiction. 

Timothy Riera, local director for the EEOC’s Honolulu Local Office, added, “Job requirements need to be consistent with the actual essential functions of the job at hand.  Requirements that are inconsistent may run afoul of the law, potentially having the adverse effect of excluding job applicants with disabilities who are fully capable of doing the job.”

According to the company’s website, the Hawaiian Electric Company and its subsidiaries provide energy to 95% of Hawaii’s 1.2 million residents on the islands of O’ahu, Maui, Hawaiÿi, Lanaÿi and Molokaÿi.  

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination.  Further information about the EEOC is available on its web site at www.eeoc.gov.