Shay, in turn, is blaming it all on an election year conspiracy perpetrated by County Attorney Al Castillo.
I had a chance to chat yesterday afternoon with former deputy prosecuting attorney Shannon Weigel, who revealed what prompted her to file a complaint of racially-based harassment against Shay.
Things got off to a rocky start when Shannon and her then-boyfriend — both recent Boston law school graduates studying for the bar exam in Hawaii — were recruited by a former law school classmate to work in the Kauai Office of Prosecuting Attorney (OPA). They were both officially hired in 2009 and moved to Kauai to start work when Shay announced the boyfriend's position no longer existed and he would not have a job at the OPA after all.
Shannon did begin her new position, but said it “started to get a little weird” when Shay “started making comments about me being a haole. She said I needed to show I was serious about being assimilated into the Hawaiian culture.”
Shannon says that Shay got more direct at an OPA party, telling Shannon and another white attorney from the mainland that “we needed to be more like my friend [the law school classmate], who was dating a local boy. She said it looked better to the community if we had these inter-racial relationships, instead of like haoles from the mainland. That was kind of weird."
After that, Shannon says she rarely saw or spoke to Shay, who was frequently out of the office. “My case load was so high because we were so short-staffed that I was working 70 to 80 hours a week and coming in on Sundays. She never talked to me, never cared what I was doing. When I did see her, she was always making rude comments, like before an office potluck, she asked me what I was going to bring, was it going to be mainland food, or some edible Hawaiian food.
“It was very discouraging working for someone who made these kinds of comments and couldn't care less for you, even though you were working hard. I had no support and no training.”
[As an aside, Shay apparently spent much of the OPA training budget to finance her own extensive travels on the job. I'll be delving into her travel expenditures in a future post.]
Meanwhile, Shannon's boyfriend was struggling to find steady legal work on Kauai. He was doing contract work for private attorneys and got two cases through court appointments, Shannon says, “but Shay fought this. She didn't want him to have any other cases on the island.” The boyfriend even volunteered at the OPA in hopes of getting a job, but Shay put a stop to that after a week or so.
Shannon says that Shay finally sent an email to the attorney friend who had recruited her, saying “Shannon has to figure this out: either break up with her boyfriend or quit. That was the ultimatum she gave to me in early February. She said it would be a conflict if I was working there and he [the boyfriend] was taking any cases on Kauai.”
In the email, Shay said the issue needed to decided that day and scheduled a meeting for noon, but kept pushing it back until the end of the day, Shannon says. During the hour-long meeting, Shannon and her friend went through every possible scenario, trying to get Shay to explain how the relationship constituted a conflict.
“But she wasn't going for it," Shannon says. "For her, it was my way or the highway. I told her I felt she'd singled us out. The judges didn't have a problem with us, other attorneys didn't have a problem with us. There are so many people [in the judiciary] who are related to one another, dating, married. It's very common in this small community. But she never changed her mind about anything. So I left the office that day. It was really upsetting.”
“I was totally bewildered by the whole thing. I was thinking, I can't believe this lady is doing this to me. It's so wrong on so many levels. I don't know what I did to her. I liked it there and got along with everyone else. I was told I was doing a good job. It was definitely something she had against the guy I was dating. There weren't that many Caucasians working there at the time and they all had issues with her, so it's definitely a pattern.”
Unable to find work on Kauai, and with Shay fighting her unemployment claim, Shannon moved to her home state of Colorado, where she had to study for and pass another bar exam. She said it was difficult applying for jobs because she had no reference from Shay and it was awkward to explain the circumstances that led to her leaving her previous post.
“I wanted to be a career prosecutor,” Shannon says. “It was really hard for me from the time I left that office to where I am now. It took 14 months for me to get a job.” She and her boyfriend, who remained on Kauai, also broke up.
Shannon says she initially “thought of letting it go and moving on, but maybe because I went to law school, I have this whole principle thing going on. That was just really wrong what she did. She shouldn't be allowed to do that to anyone else. And she's never held accountable for it? I wanted something to be done so it wouldn't happen again, or at least so it would be deterred. Of all people, that's someone who should not be acting that way. ”
Shannon says it took two years for the case to be resolved. “Shay declined mediation in my case so they [EEOC] kept the investigation open. I didn't know if it was going to go anywhere, but then they [EEOC] made the finding [of cause] two months ago, and after that, the county was eager to settle."
Shannon negotiated for a settlement of $120,000. "I'm sure I could have gotten more if I'd filed a civil suit, but it wasn't about the money. I wanted her [Shay] to be held responsible, finally, or show a little remorse at least. Maybe through these [EEOC training] classes the county has to go through it will increase a little awareness.”
When asked if she'd gotten an apology from Shay, Shannon laughed.
“God, no. Absolutely no. She fought it every step of the way, denying it, saying I was fired for talking back to her or something. I just wish she would stop treating people that way. That was the main reason I filed this complaint. She never thinks she's ever in the wrong.”