July 2nd, 2013

Let’s Talk with Kalola: Hawaii Tugboat Captain Fights Back

Dear Kalola,

No one seems to listen, politicians, judges, even you folks. I have for many years worked as a tugboat captain. Hauling Oil & Fuel between the islands in Hawaii. I was constantly bullied and intimidated at work to use faulty equipment and unseaworthy vessels. I complained, was terminated, blamed for the things I complained about. I filed a complaint, won my unemployment case. I filed a federal lawsuit and now I am up for a forced settlement of pennies. I wrote to you folks during my case no one ever got back to me.

My case is huge, unfortunately the company I am up against is the largest in the world. I had 3 law firms help me with this case and several expert witnesses….but still, even though I had more than enough evidence….I was forced to settle. Settlement is July 3, 2013. This case, unfortunately became political. My story needs to be told and heard by people who care and want to do something….seriously about this national problem of bullying and intimidation in the workplace. My story would make an excellent movie, it has all the elements that would make it a hit. I hope this time some one contacts me and this is not a waste of time, I hope you folks are serious.

Hawaii Tugboat Captain

Dear Hawaii Tugboat Captain

This Mainland gal hears you …

Your “Let’s Talk” story submission is the second workplace story submitted from the Hawaiian Islands since “Let’s Talk” began in June of 2012.  This is the first time that I have read your story.  Due to the number of compelling workplace story submissions, stories are randomly chosen for a response.  There just isn’t enough time in a day to respond to each and every workplace story that is received.  I can only hope that the workplace stories and responses that are published will resonate with workers who may be in a similar situation.  It is important for workers to know that they are not alone in what is or has happened to them in the workplace.


I encourage Targets to write to their state legislators.  To see if there is a pending anti-bullying Healthy Workplace Bill in your state go to the website and look up your state at: http://www.healthyworkplacebill.org/states.php

Hawaii Healthy Workplace Bill.  Go to:  http://www.healthyworkplacebill.org/states/hi/hawaii.php to see what is happening in Hawaii.  Hawaii workers and friends— please contact your Hawaii State Legislators, and ask your legislator to support the anti-bullying Bills (HB 272 and SB 196).

For our readers who wish to take action against workplace bullying, suggestions on how you can help can be found by going to the following web page: http://www.healthyworkplacebill.org/volunteer.php

I’m glad that you found three attorneys who were willing to take on your legal matter.  I am sorry that the monetary settlement is not what you expected.  Here’s the deal and it shouldn’t be—workplace bullying is not against the law in any state in the U.S. as of this writing.  Because workplace bullying is not against the law, attorneys are often reluctant to take cases.


To have a legal case, the worker must prove that the employer illegally discriminated against them, and that the worker suffered adversely as a result.  Attorneys choose which cases they want to take on.  Workers often tell us that finding an attorney is no easy matter.


See the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) Press Releases to see the cases the EEOC has taken on:  http://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/index.cfm.  If you look at the press releases you can see that the settlements vary.  The EEOC does not litigate or pursue every complaint submitted to them.  Each complaint is reviewed.  The employer is given an opportunity to respond to the complaint.  It is a long process.  Most often, unless the complaint is rejected, the complainant will receive a right-to-sue notice in which case it is up to the individual whether or not to pursue their matter.  Many workers just don’t have the financial means to take on their employer.  You can review the charge statistics (or complaints filed) and compare it to the litigation statistics for yourself:

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:  Charge Statistics Fiscal Year 1997 to 2012

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission:  Litigation Statistics Fiscal Year 1997 to 2012

Unemployment Insurance Benefits.  Workers who lose their jobs or quit their jobs due to workplace bullying can file for unemployment insurance benefits with their state department of employment.  Each claim is reviewed on an individual basis.  If the worker receives a denial of benefits notice, the worker has the right to appeal.  It costs nothing to appeal but the worker’s time and effort.


You are the captain of a tugboat that hauls oil/fuel between the Hawaiian Islands.  The seaworthiness of the vessel, I believe, falls under the realm of the United State Coast Guard (USCG).  See their missions at their website:  http://www.uscg.mil/top/missions/.  The USCG  often works in conjunction with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as well as other agencies and is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  The website for the EPA Enforcement Division is:  http://www.epa.gov/enforcement/.

It costs money to litigate.  Even if an attorney takes a worker’s case on a contingency basis, the worker will still have to pay court costs and other fees which can add up.  Attorneys aren’t cheap, and will bill for every minute of their time.  Federal Courts encourage Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) in the hopes that the matter can be resolved privately outside of the courts.  Guess who also wins if there is a monetary settlement?  Uncle Sam does, that is, the Internal Revenue Service will take their share of the settlement.  And, unless you live in a state where there is no state income tax then your state will also want their share.  After legal fees and costs, and after state and federal income taxes, a legal settlement can end up being quite modest.


I’m sorry that your legal settlement only amounts to pennies.  Here is what you did do—you put up the good fight against the employer.  You may have also saved the beautiful shores, waters, and marine life in and around the Hawaiian Islands from a needless oil/fuel spill.  By saving or preventing harm to the environment, you are a hero.

Workers who litigate and who win their legal cases or who take a legal settlement often are precluded from telling their story or saying anything negative about the employer.  This has to change.


If your legal settlement agreement doesn’t include confidentiality or hush clauses that precludes you from discussing your case, the settlement, or the employer then why don’t you write a book about your workplace story, and see if it sells.  If the legal settlement has such a clause or clauses do read them carefully.  I can think of one worker who had received a legal settlement and who did write a book (very few copies were sold), and the employer took him/her to court for violating the confidential clause(s) of the legal settlement agreement and won.  The media could report on the worker’s story, but the worker couldn’t talk about the matter after she/he signed the legal settlement agreement.

Unfortunately, WBI does not have contacts in the movie industry.  In my eyes, you are a hero in your efforts to protect our environment.  I’m sorry that your legal settlement gives you little satisfaction.  Sometimes it isn’t about the money but what is right.  Frankly, every Target’s story should be told.  Again, I encourage workers to write to their state legislators.  Each and every one of you can be a citizen activist/lobbyist.





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This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 2nd, 2013 at 9:00 am and is filed under Let's Talk with Kalola. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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