POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Sep 29, 2010
A federal agency enforcing employment discrimination laws has filed an age discrimination lawsuit against a Hawaii company that provides health care to seniors.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed the suit against Hawaii Healthcare Professionals Inc., alleging that the Honolulu-based company providing home health care services on Oahu, Maui and Kauai fired a 54-year-old office coordinator because of age.
The company denies the allegations and said it supports seniors as employees and customers.
"We're in the business of elder care. We're not going to discriminate," said Carolyn Frutoz-DeHarne, the firm's chief executive officer.
Frutoz-DeHarne said Hawaii Healthcare Professionals has 125 employees, of which the oldest is 86. At the time of the age discrimination complaint made two years ago, the company's oldest employee was 72, she said.
The EEOC filed the suit in U.S. District Court in Hawaii on behalf of a former employee in the company's Maui office.
According to the complaint, the company's owner, Frutoz-DeHarne, made disparaging remarks about the 54-year-old female employee looking old and sounding old on the telephone, and had the employee fired.
Frutoz-DeHarne said the EEOC's claim -- which includes the contention that she said the employee looked "like a bag of bones" -- has no merit.
The EEOC said it filed the suit after unsuccessfully attempting to settle the complaint filed by the former employee.
The suit seeks back pay and monetary damages for the former employee, as well as injunctive relief intended to prevent further discrimination.