421 P.3d 1262 (Hawai‘i 2018), SCWC-13-0001579, In re Kuamoo

Docket Nº:SCWC-13-0001579
Citation:421 P.3d 1262, 142 Hawai‘i 492
Opinion Judge:WILSON, J.
Party Name:In the MATTER OF Bernard KUAMOO, Petitioner/Complainant-Employee/Appellant-Appellant and State of Hawai‘i, Department of Public Safety (2010-122) Respondent/Respondent-Employer/Appellee-Appellee and State of Hawai‘i, Merit Appeals Board; Colleen R. Meyer; Valerie B. Pacheco; Alvin M. Yoshimori (MAB Case No. 265), Respondents/Agency/Appellees-...
Attorney:Lowell K.Y. Chun-Hoon, Honolulu, Tatjana A. Johnson, For petitioners. James E. Halvorson, Deputy Attorney General, Honolulu, For respondent.
Judge Panel:RECKTENWALD, C.J., NAKAYAMA, McKENNA, POLLACK, AND WILSON, JJ.
Case Date:June 28, 2018
Court:Supreme Court of Hawai'i
 
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Page 1262

421 P.3d 1262 (Hawai‘i 2018)

142 Hawai‘i 492

In the MATTER OF Bernard KUAMOO, Petitioner/Complainant-Employee/Appellant-Appellant

and

State of Hawai‘i, Department of Public Safety (2010-122) Respondent/Respondent-Employer/Appellee-Appellee

and

State of Hawai‘i, Merit Appeals Board; Colleen R. Meyer; Valerie B. Pacheco; Alvin M. Yoshimori (MAB Case No. 265), Respondents/Agency/Appellees-Appellees (Civil No. 12-1-1624)

In the Matter of Denise Gabriel, Petitioner/Complainant-Employee/Appellant-Appellant

and

State of Hawai‘i, Department of Public Safety (2010-123) Respondent/Respondent-Employer/Appellee-Appellee

and

State of Hawai‘i, Merit Appeals Board; Colleen R. Meyer; Valerie B. Pacheco; Alvin M. Yoshimori (MAB Case No. 266), Respondents/Agency/Appellees-Appellees (Civil No. 12-1-1680)

In the Matter of Arasi Mose, Petitioner/Complainant-Employee/Appellant-Appellant

and

State of Hawai‘i, Department of Public Safety (2011-025) Respondent/Respondent-Employer/Appellee-Appellee

and

State of Hawai‘i, Merit Appeals Board; Alvin M. Yoshimori; Valerie B. Pacheco; Janice T. Kemp (MAB Case No. 274), Respondents/Agency/Appellees-Appellees (Civil No. 12-1-2269)

In the Matter of Kelii Lau, Petitioner/Complainant-Employee/Appellant-Appellant,

and

State of Hawai‘i, Department of Public Safety (2011-022) Respondent/Respondent-Employer/Appellee-Appellee,

and

State of Hawai‘i, Merit Appeals Board; Alvin M. Yoshimori; Valerie B. Pacheco; Janice T. Kemp (MAB Case No. 275), Respondents/Agency/Appellees-Appellees (Civil No. 12-1-2270)

In the Matter of Fiafia Sataraka, Petitioner/Complainant-Employee/Appellant-Appellant

and

State of Hawai‘i, Department of Public Safety (2011-022) Respondent/Respondent-Employer/Appellee-Appellee

and

State of Hawai‘i, Merit Appeals Board; Alvin M. Yoshimori; Valerie B. Pacheco; Janice T. Kemp (MAB Case No. 277), Respondents/Agency/Appellees-Appellees (Civil No. 12-1-2271)

No. SCWC-13-0001579

Supreme Court of Hawai‘i

June 28, 2018

Page 1263

CERTIORARI TO THE INTERMEDIATE COURT OF APPEALS (CAAP-13-0001579)

Lowell K.Y. Chun-Hoon, Honolulu, Tatjana A. Johnson, For petitioners.

James E. Halvorson, Deputy Attorney General, Honolulu, For respondent.

RECKTENWALD, C.J., NAKAYAMA, McKENNA, POLLACK, AND WILSON, JJ.

OPINION

WILSON, J.

[142 Hawai‘i 493] Bernard Kuamoo, Denise Gabriel, Arasi Mose, Kelii Lau, and Fiafia Sataraka (the employees or applicants) are employed by the Department of Public Safety as Adult Correction Officers. Each applied for pro

Page 1264

[142 Hawai‘i 494] motion to open supervisory positions, and each was rejected based on an unwritten department policy. Under the unwritten policy, the department precludes from promotion to supervisory positions all employees who have been suspended for violation of the department’s standards of conduct in the prior two years. The unwritten policy applies without exception. Each applicant had passed the relevant examination and was otherwise qualified for the supervisory position prior to being deemed "unsuitable" under the unwritten policy.

At issue is whether the department’s policy violates aspects of the merit principle on which the Hawai‘i civil service system is founded. See Haw. Const. art. XVI, § 1 (mandating that the "employment of persons in the civil service, as defined by law ... shall be governed by the merit principle"); HRS § 76-1. As explained below, we hold the department’s unwritten policy violates the merit principle.

I. BACKGROUND

The applicants are Adult Corrections Officers (ACO) employed by the Department of Public Safety (PSD or the department). Each applied for a promotion to an open supervisory position, either ACO IV (sergeant) or ACO V (lieutenant) positions. Each was informed by department letter that his or her application had been denied. The letters noted that a background check revealed the applicant had violated the department’s standards of conduct and been suspended, sometimes for as little as one day. According to the letters, the department deemed each applicant "unsuitable" for promotion for the following two reasons: 1. Inadequate amount of elapsed time from the effective date of your suspension to show rehabilitation.

2. Your decision to violate or disregard the Standards of Conduct.

The department characterized its decision as a determination that the applicant is deemed "temporarily unsuitable" for the position.

The employees individually challenged PSDs denial of their application for promotion to the Merit Appeals Board (MAB). According to testimony before the MAB, the selection process for ACO IV and V positions consists of several stages. The department first administers a written examination to applicants. Applicants must receive a...

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