Are Hawaii whistleblowers protected?
Challenges residents face when reporting wrongdoing
Alone, outcast and facing legal action. That not only describes Edward Snowden, it also describes many of Hawaii's whistleblowers who have come forward about wrongdoing in the workplace.
"It was really bad, the worst experience of my life," said former Transportation Security Administration worker Kristy Lungo.
She blew the whistle on what she said were illegal actions aimed at airport passengers by her superior.
"He was profiling, that was the basis for my whistle-blower complaint," said Lungo.
Instead of being thanked for revealing this action, Lungo instead embarked on a nearly two-year battle.
She documented phone calls, emails and letters as she tried to get someone to do something about the problem. Along the way, Lungo said she faced retaliation from other co-workers and supervisors.
"The minute I filed the complaint, my performance reviews immediately dropped. I went from being an excellent officer with 11 years of federal service to being substandard," said Lungo.
Lungo also ran into challenges with her complaint. Even the independent federal agency designed to investigate these types of cases sent her a letter stating it had no legal basis for looking more closely into her whistleblower complaint.
"I ended up walking away from the job after two years. I couldn't take the abuses at work anymore and I was disheartened by trying to get someone to look at it objectively," said Lungo.
Her case is not that unusual, according to attorney Michael Lilly. He deals with employment law and rarely recommends clients to come forward, because of the personal risk they take by blowing the whistle.
"Many times whistleblowers won't bring a claim because they know they will be damaged goods. If they do bring a claim, they find a very formidable opponent," said Lilly.
Businesses and government agencies have more money and resources to defend themselves, while a whistleblower may only start off with a sense of what is right and wrong.
There have been a few successful Hawaii whistleblower cases in recent years. Even those have taken years to wrap up and have taken their toll on those who speak up, according to Lilly.
"It can take a very long time to resolve. In many cases, people come to the end and wish they never went through it," added Lilly.
Even knowing how difficult and emotionally draining blowing the whistle can be, Lungo said she would still do it all over again.
"Yeah, I would have to say yes. Because it was the right thing to do," said Lungo.
Lilly said Hawaii's whistleblower laws are strong, but the problem is in many workplaces people are discouraged or even fearful of bringing up a complaint in the first place.
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