Hawaii lawmakers just balanced the budget. But a class action lawsuit could cost the state $70 million more that legislators didn’t account for.
The state of Hawaii may need to fork out the money to part-time teachers who say they’d been underpaid for seven years by the Department of Education.
The April 25 ruling comes at a time when the state has little money to spare.
Hawaii lawmakers have spent much of the legislative session grappling over how to make up a $1.3 billion deficit. On Friday, they achieved that goal by passing a series of tax bills and making cuts to state departments.
The exact amount the state will owe has not yet been determined. But plaintiff Dianne Kawashima’s attorney told Civil Beat the figure will likely be in the tens of millions.
“We won a summary judgment establishing that the DOE underpaid part-time teachers from 2004-2011,” Paul Alston, with the law firm Alston Hunt Floyd & Ing, wrote in an email on Friday. “The damages are approximately $54 million.”
Alston said he will also seek interest damages, which could amount to as much as $17 million. Including attorney fees, the state could be looking at a final penalty in excess of $70 million.
Jim Halvorson, a deputy attorney general and co-council representing the state in the case, said the battle may not be over.
“There was a motion for summary judgment by the plaintiffs, which was granted,” Halvorson told Civil Beat. “But the order has not been issued yet… The summary judgment was only as to liability. There’s been no determination of damages. So what’s going to happen next, I’m not at liberty to say. We have to see what the order looks like and make a determination.”
Halvorson said the case has not yet gone through an appeal process — and he doesn’t know that it necessarily will — but that it’s “still in the works.”
Kawashima filed the case in 2006, alleging that the Department of Education had underpaid her and thousands of other substitute teachers for years. She told the Honolulu Advertiser at the time that the DOE had “cheated” her and owed her years of back pay.
The case is just one of several class action lawsuits Gov. Neil Abercrombie inherited when he took office. In total, lawsuit penalties against the state could amount to more than $200 million, depending on outcomes.
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