State Law: Hawaii


The Law

The Hawaii Employment Practices Act, H.R.S. Ch. 378, Part I makes it illegal for an employer or labor organization to discriminate against someone on the basis of sex. In addition, Article I, Section 5 of the Hawaii Constitution says that "no person shall be denied the enjoyment of civil rights or be discriminated against in the exercise thereof because of race, religion, sex or ancestry."

An "employer" under Hawaii law means "any person, including the State or any of its political subdivisions and any agent of such person, having one or more employees, but shall not include the United States."

Thus, the Hawaii statute against discrimination in the workplace applies to all employers with one or more employees, while Title VII only applies to employers with 15+ employees.

Included in the Hawaii Employment Practices Act is a provision that makes it illegal for an employer or labor organization to "refuse to hire or employ, or to bar or discharge from employment, or withhold pay, demote, or penalize a lactating employee because an employee breastfeeds or expresses milk at the workplace. For purposes of this paragraph, the term "breastfeeds" means the feeding of a child directly from the breast." See H.R.S. Ch. 38, Part I, § 378-2(7).

In addition to prohibiting sex/gender discrimination, the Hawaii Employment Practices Act also prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, religion, color, ancestry, sexual orientation, age, marital status, mental and physical disability, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, arrest and conviction record.

Filing A Complaint

The Hawaii Civil Rights Commission investigates complaints filed with it free of charge. Complaints under state law must be filed within 180 days of the date you became aware you were being discriminated against or the date of the alleged illegal act. You may file a complaint with the Commission by visiting the office located at 830 Punchbowl Street #411 in Honolulu or by calling (808) 586-8636.

Once you file a complaint with the Commission, the Commission will send your employer a letter and a copy of your complaint, stating that you believe you were/are being discriminated against. The employer will have an opportunity to respond to this complaint.

The Commission will conduct an investigation of the complaint to determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe you have been discriminated against and your rights violated.

If reasonable cause is found, you and your employer will be required to attempt to negotiate a settlement. If settlement negotiations fail, a public hearing will be held. If your case goes to public hearing, you will not have to incur any legal expenses or other costs, as you would have to pay in a court case, unless you hire your own private attorney.

may decide to go through the federal or state court process instead of the Commission’s investigative process. You must first file with the EEOC or Hawaii Civil Rights Commission and request a Notice of Right to Sue in order to file in court. The attorney you hire will explain this process to you. Many Hawaii attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in state court. However, most cases may be brought in either state or federal court. State law does not limit the damages for a discrimination claim, which are limited under federal law.

For more information and a more detailed explanation of the complaint process, please visit the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission website.