When Keola Whittaker, an attorney on Maui, read a job posting for a case manager in Wailuku, he was disappointed.

“I prefer to hire mainlanders who have relocated to Maui,” the job posting from a Maui personal injury law firm read.

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The ad went up on Craigslist in mid-November, and on Wednesday attracted a sharp response on social media after Whittaker posted it on Twitter.

“Yuck.” “Gross.” “Is this even legal?” Hawaii Twitter users chorused in response.

Whittaker, who is originally from Oahu, said he doesn’t understand the preference in part because local applicants might have more knowledge of Hawaii’s court system than outsiders.

What makes somebody who is a transplant from the mainland better?” he said. “People who grew up here who are local to Hawaii sometimes have trouble finding jobs, and they experience these very types of issues whether it’s in a job posting or not.”

Johnny Brown, a trial lawyer from Texas who posted the ad, said that he loves living in Hawaii but it’s been challenging to find qualified people on Maui because there’s a small pool of applicants and it’s an expensive place to live.

I’d love to hire some people who are from the island, but it seems like I just never seem to find those people on Maui,” he said.

He said he recently hired a paralegal from California and that while he has hired some local people, most of his current staff are originally from the mainland, even if they’ve lived in Hawaii for a decade.

“It’s not like I’m against the culture in some way but I guess that, I guess they call it the Protestant work ethic, to be frank about it,” he said. “I work 60 hours a week and I can’t find anybody that will keep up with me.”

This job posting from a Maui law firm sparked criticism for its explicit preference for people who moved to Hawaii from the mainland. 

One Twitter user said she had flagged the ad as discriminatory to Craigslist, but Brown took issue with that criticism.

“Discrimination, mind you, is a constitutional issue, it only applies to the government,” he said. “As a private business man I can hire anyone I want and look for any pool of talent I want.”

But legally there are protected classes of people whom employers can’t discriminate against.

Bill Hoshijo, executive director from the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, said that the state’s fair employment law “prohibits employment discrimination based on race, sex including gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, age, religion, color, ancestry, disability, marital status, arrest and court record, reproductive health decision, or domestic or sexual violence victim status.”

Where you’re born and raised isn’t one of those legally protected classes.

“The statute does not prohibit discrimination based on ‘mainlander’ or ‘local’ status, except to the extent that discrimination on those bases could be a pretext or proxy for race or ancestry-based discrimination,” Hoshijo said. “At times, even policies and practices that appear neutral and are not intended to discriminate can have a discriminatory, disparate impact on a protected group.”

According to U.S. Census data, people who identify as white alone make up 30.1% of Maui County’s population, compared with 60.1% of the U.S. as a whole. People who identify as Native Hawaiian or another Pacific Islander ethnicity alone make up 10.6% of Maui County’s population, compared with just 0.2% of the population nationally.

Brown emphasized that his wording had nothing to do with race and rather was a marketing decision intended to entice mainlanders to apply.

“I don’t care what race you are, what sex you are, what your sexuality is, what your age is,” he said. “The fact is there’s a lot of qualified people from California.”

Linda Krieger, a law professor at the University of Hawaii Manoa, said the job posting struck her as unwise and unfair but not necessarily illegal.

“It’s based on inaccurate stereotypes about how hard people work in Hawaii,” she said. 

Krieger, who is a member of the state Civil Rights Commission, previously led the law school’s Ulu Lehua Scholars Program that supports law students from diverse backgrounds.

We’ve got some very, very highly qualified, very good new lawyers coming out of Richardson,” she said, referring to the William S. Richardson School of Law. She added that a line indicating mainlanders are preferred would likely discourage local people from applying.

Brown clarified that he didn’t mean to imply people in Hawaii don’t have a work ethic and said a lot of people are on Maui in order to escape a pressure-cooker life.

“I’m just one of these Alpha males hardwired from federal courts in Texas and it’s a fast paced life and I’m still wired that way and I want to litigate like that so I’m looking for like-minded people,” Brown said.

He said he interviewed someone from Hawaii on Wednesday and is likely going to hire her, so he is considering local candidates.

“I’m just as free to look to hire someone from Texas or California as I am from Hawaii too,” he said.

Civil Beat’s coverage of Maui County is supported in part by a grant from the Nuestro Futuro Foundation.

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