GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Plaintiff Nancy Olipares held a press conference yesterday with Honolulu attorney David F. Simons after winning a $3 million judgment against the city in a whistle-blowing case.
Jury vindicates fired city worker
Nancy Olipares tried to follow federal law, earning the enmity of her superiors
STORY SUMMARY »
An Oahu jury awarded a former city employee more than $3 million yesterday in a whistle-blower, wrongful-termination lawsuit.
Nancy Olipares was the executive director of the Oahu Workforce Investment Board, which oversees the distribution of millions of dollars the federal government gives to the city to conduct job training.
Olipares contended the city did not renew her annual job contract in 2003 because she blew the whistle on the misuse of some of that money by Michael Amii, then the director of the city Department of Community Services.
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Nancy Olipares reported to the chairwoman of the Oahu Workforce Investment Board in 2003 that city official Michael Amii misused federal money meant for job training to pay for a trip to Washington, D.C.
Later that year, the city did not renew Olipares' annual contract as executive director when it expired at the end of June.
Olipares had also reported that Amii, director of the Department of Community Services, refused to release money she and the board requested and retaliated against her when she did not award a city agency within his department a contract for which it had applied.
An Oahu Circuit Court jury awarded Olipares more than $3 million yesterday in her whistle-blower, wrongful-termination lawsuit against the city. The jury awarded her $1.05 million in special damages for lost wages and benefits, past and future, and $2 million in general damages.
"To me the biggest thing was just hearing that the jury affirmed for me that I hadn't done anything wrong," Olipares said.
She said she was convinced she did the right thing and followed the law, but leaving her job the way she did still felt bad.
City attorney Marie Gavigan said she is disappointed by yesterday's verdict and that the city is weighing its options. She pointed out the case occurred under the Jeremy Harris administration.
The Oahu Workforce Investment Board oversees the distribution of millions of dollars from the federal government for job training. The federal government gives the money to the city, which is supposed to release it at the investment board's direction. The board is administratively attached to the city Department of Community Services.
When Olipares took the executive director job in December 2000, the city was getting the contracts for youth training programs and a one-stop job placement center. But in 2002, Olipares put those contracts out for bid to comply with federal law to give private industry control over federal funds used for work-force development and training.
"And the city, from that moment on, began to go after Nancy," said David Simons, her lawyer.
He said Amii began questioning her travel requests, sent her harassing e-mail if she took any sick days off and took away her authority to sign invoices. Olipares and her staff frequently worked overtime because Amii refused to release money to hire more people, Simons said.
Olipares, 51, is now a special-needs teacher at Lincoln School.
Three days after Olipares lost her job, Amii was fined and ordered to pay restitution after pleading no contest to theft for ordering a staffer to work on Harris's political campaign during city time.
And Honolulu police raided the investment board's office in December 2004 and seized the computer of Olipares' replacement in an investigation into the awarding of agency contracts and travel by agency staffers. No one has been charged in the case.