Fire Alarm Company Sues Fire Department For Discrimination

A fire alarm company in Honolulu is suing the City and County of Honolulu and five named fire inspectors claiming the inspectors discriminated against the company because of its owner’s religion and national origin. Ohana Control Systems, Inc. and its president Michael Amir Borochov filed suit in US District Court for the District of Hawaii alleging a violation of the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection requirement and an assortment of state law claims. Borochov is Jewish and of Israeli ancestry.

The complaint alleges that city officials treated Ohana differently from its competitors, leaked trade secrets, interfered with its relations with customers prompting at least one lawsuit, interfered with its relations with its suppliers, and cost them “tens of millions of dollars.” The state law claims include intentional infliction of emotional distress, civil conspiracy, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation.

According to the complaint:

  • HFD Fire Prevention Bureau arbitrarily, capriciously, and maliciously has engaged in a years’ long course of conduct to selectively enforce the applicable fire code and other policies or procedures against Ohana based on whim, caprice or malice, contrary to how other similarly situated fire alarm installers are treated.
  • As described herein, one of the Defendants… made anti-Semitic statements about Amir to one of Ohana’s competitors, including calling Amir a “shyster”…. a “crook”, and told the competitor that he does not like Amir.
  • As described herein, on more than one occasion, certain of the Defendants sent to Ohana’s competitor unrequested copies of government records that included Ohana’s trade secrets, in violation of Hawaii Revised Statutes chapter 482B and HRS § 92F-17 and not in good faith, and requested that Ohana’s competitor comment on the documents.
  • Defendant HFD later either hid or destroyed these communications when those communications were sought by subpoena in a different litigation.
  • As described herein, Defendant … contacted by email the company whose fire alarm systems Ohana exclusively installs, circumventing both Ohana and the electrical engineer on record, thereby resulting in interference with Ohana’s business relationship with the company.
  • The emails from Defendant … were an inappropriate and wrongful effort to undercut Ohana, interfere with its relationship with its supplier, and perhaps to benefit Ohana’s competitors.
  • As further described herein, from approximately May 2015 to as recently as July 29, 2021, one or more Defendants have continually and consistently required that Ohana meet more “requirements” to pass inspections than is required of other fire alarm installers, tried to rescind a prior passing inspection for an improper reason; required that Ohana install expensive equipment that Defendants do not require any other fire installer to install; approved plans and then at inspection insisted on additional or different work than reflected on the approved plans, usually at the last minute and costing many thousands of dollars and resulting in significant delays; insisted on payment of inspection fees and then immediately “canceling” the inspection just paid for moments before for ludicrous and made-up reasons, repeatedly; challenged Amir to a physical fight when Ohana met with Defendants to discuss some of the actions above; and intimidated witnesses and destroyed or withheld evidence in litigation their actions caused.
  • Defendants’ actions are part of a continuous course of conduct continuing to this day that has targeted Ohana and Amir over at least the last six years.
  • Defendants have continually singled out Ohana and discriminated against Ohana in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution on the basis of race, national origin, and/or religion because Amir is Jewish and/or an Israeli.
  • However, the greater public good that may come from Defendants’ intentional and malicious conduct is that Amir and Ohana’s efforts to fight the discrimination have exposed HFD’s complete and total incompetence in (i) reviewing building plans for a fire alarm system’s compliance with the applicable fire code; and (ii) testing and inspection of fire alarm systems for applicable fire code compliance.
  • Specifically, the employees in the HFD Fire Prevention Bureau lack the necessary education, experience, and training to perform these functions.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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