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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, May 26, 2001

Judge reverses pilot's $1.4 million damages award

By Mike Gordon
Advertiser Staff Writer

A $1.4 million discrimination award for damages to a pilot blind in one eye was reversed Thursday in Circuit Court, but his attorney said the Hawai'i Supreme Court will be the final authority on whether Bruce Pied suffered job discrimination.

Circuit Judge Eden Elizabeth Hifo ruled that the pilot was not disabled under state law when he applied in 1990 to fly for Aloha Island Air. And since she did not find he was limited, Hifo ruled he could not claim he was discriminated against.

Pied received the record damages award in November from the Hawai'i Civil Rights Commission, which ruled that the airline discriminated against the pilot by not hiring him.

Despite having monocular vision, Pied, 49, has been a pilot since 1986. He has flown for tour and cargo companies and now flies for Polar Air, a cargo transport company on the Mainland.

"At the most fundamental level, (the judge) thought that because Mr. Pied could see well enough to be a pilot, which was undisputed, that therefore he didn't suffer from a disability," said David Simons, Pied's attorney.

"The commission and a hearing examiner looked at this and came to the exact opposite conclusion."

Simons said he plans to appeal Hifo's ruling to the Hawai'i Supreme Court, which will then decide whether to take the case or assign it to a lower court of appeals.

Simons said disability law presents a dilemma: In order to be covered by the law, a person has to be able to perform the essential functions of the job, and yet at the same time be limited in some way.

But the courts have found that perception of a person's limitations are part of the problem.

"People automatically make the knee-jerk decision that someone, because they have this physical limitation, can't do things," Simons said.