- Associated Press - Thursday, May 10, 2018

HILO, Hawaii (AP) - The Hawaii Supreme Court has overturned the dismissal of a defamation lawsuit filed against Hawaii County, former Councilman Dominic Yagong and a private investigator.

The court’s ruling on Tuesday also cleared former County Clerk Jamae Kawauchi, saying the comments attributed to her in a 2012 newspaper article were not defamatory because they were true, West Hawaii Today reported .

The lawsuit was filed by county Elections Administrator Pat Nakamoto and a former elections clerk after statements by Yagong and Kawauchi were quoted in 2012 in Big Island newspapers naming four employees who were fired for unspecified violations of county policy.

Kawauchi identified the four who were fired in the articles.

The state Supreme Court sent the rest of the case back to circuit court for further proceedings for all defendants except Kawauchi. The circuit court must decide because “whether Yagong’s allegedly defamatory statements were true involves a disputed question of material fact,” the Supreme Court ruled.

Higher courts rule only on the law. It’s up to the circuit court to rule on facts in a case, West Hawaii Today reported.

The lower court must also decide whether the private investigator hired by the county, Corporate Specialized Investigations and Intelligence Services LLC, breached the duty of care, “to conduct an investigation honestly, truthfully, with fair dealing, and to report the results of the investigation accurately, without misrepresenting any facts,” the ruling stated.

Ted Hong, a Hilo attorney representing Nakamoto and Ayau, praised the ruling.

“This is an important decision for all employees who need to protect their reputation from malicious employers and co-workers,” Hong said in a statement. “The court’s decision will help protect workers in the changing, modern workplace for the next 50 years, at least.”

The county had claimed worker compensation law is the only recourse for employees who believe they are defamed or their reputations injured by action at the workplace.

The Supreme Court disagreed.

“We hold that the (worker compensation law) bar on claims for injuries incurred in the course of employment does not extend to injuries to a person’s reputation. Accordingly, employees may bring defamation and false light claims against their employers,” the ruling stated.


Information from: West Hawaii Today, http://www.westhawaiitoday.com

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