UH-Hilo sued for alleged discrimination


A former University of Hawaii at Hilo employee is suing the university for alleged racial discrimination.

The lawsuit filed in Hilo Circuit Court on Monday says Ian Seely, who was a student at least as of last October, faced discrimination while working in information technology at the Campus Center.

Seely took the job in July 2011.

The lawsuit says three co-workers began racially harassing him a year later, calling him a “stupid haole” and making racial comments via email and Facebook.

It says he complained to his supervisor, Campus Center Associate Director Lai Sha Bugado, and was told he needed to prove racial stereotypes wrong. It also says he was told being from the mainland and his disability might impact his ability to communicate with co-workers, and he needed to change.

Seely has a disability that makes it difficult to concentrate and focus, according to the lawsuit. He was given a private, quiet place to work as a result.

After making the complaints, the lawsuit says he was moved to a loud area near a game room, received a reduction in hours, and was required to check in daily with the three co-workers alleged to have conducted the harassment.

The lawsuit claims this was retaliation.

Seely was terminated from the position April 5, 2013. The lawsuit says this was also retaliation.

He filed a charge of discrimination with the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in May 2013. The U.S. Department of Justice and HCRC issued Seely “right to sue letters” earlier this year, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit says a “false allegation” he failed to return keys to the Campus Center led the university to place a hold on his paychecks and educational account following the complaint.

It also says he was falsely accused of cheating on an astronomy final in October. It’s unclear if he is continuing to attend the university.

The lawsuit identifies the University of Hawaii; Bugado; Ellen Kusano, Campus Center director; and former co-worker Megan Escalona as defendants.

Jerry Chang, director of University Relations, said UH-Hilo had not received the lawsuit and couldn’t comment.

Kusano is also named as a defendant in a lawsuit alleging UH-Hilo violated students’ First Amendment rights by preventing them from approaching other students to distribute copies of the U.S. Constitution during a tabling event for campus groups.

According to the lawsuit, Kusano told the students they had to stay at their table and could not directly approach others in the Campus Center Plaza to distribute literature.

Email Tom Callis at tcallis@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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