Former Maui Film Commissioner Claims Mayor Fired Him at Ryan Kavanaugh's Request

Ryan Kavanaugh - H 2016
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Ryan Kavanaugh - H 2016

The Relativity CEO, who was a significant backer of the Maui County mayor and local film legislation, indicated he'd withdraw his support unless the commissioner was let go.

Former Maui film commissioner Harry Donenfeld claims he was fired at the request of Relativity CEO Ryan Kavanaugh, who allegedly told local mayor Alan Arakawa that he'd no longer support the mayor and his causes unless the commissioner got the boot.

According to a lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Hawaii, Kavanaugh made significant contributions to the Maui County mayor's re-election bid and his personal charity. The Relativity CEO also spent more than $2 million, the suit states, to support a movie tax bill that he believed was threatened by the emergence of Maui Film Studios, which Donenfeld, Kavanaugh believed, had assisted. In a series of emails, Kavanaugh made his displeasure with Donenfeld known and indicated said he'd no longer support film legislation if Donenfeld was involved.

In response to these notes, the mayor's cabinet manager told Kavanaugh that the mayor ordered high-ranking Maui County staff to confront Donenfeld and if the commissioner interfered with Kavanaugh's plans, he would be fired.

Indeed, Donenfeld's employment was terminated on Sept. 6, 2013, after he was told he had to be at his desk by 7:45 a.m. every day and wasn't there two days prior, with the mayor telling The Maui News that Donenfeld was fired because he wasn't coming to work — comments the former film commissioner calls defamatory. Donenfeld began his tenure as film commissioner on Aug. 4, 2011, the suit states.

Donenfeld's suit claims he was terminated without just cause, alleging that a review of his employment file reveals he wasn't fired for failure to attend work with the only explanation for his firing being a Nov. 11, 2013, letter that states he was let go because he was incompatible for the position. Furthermore, the suit claims, there's no other document or evidence in Donenfeld's file to indicate he was fired for cause or misconduct or missed work or was late.

The suit claims Donenfeld became aware that he might have been fired at Kavanaugh's request when a Maui News reporter sent him emails in which Kavanaugh indicated that he wanted Donenfeld gone. A portion of these emails were published in a Maui News story published last fall, claiming Kavanaugh tried to push the commissioner out.

Donenfeld claims that his reputation has been severely damaged and he has suffered lost benefits, public shame and struggled to find another job.

Donenfeld wants relief and damages, in an amount to be proven at trial, from deprivation of his constitutional due process rights and for damages for violations of state and federal law. Donenfeld is being represented by the law firm of Bays Lung Rose Holma.

Both Kavanaugh and a rep for Relativity declined to comment to The Hollywood Reporter.

Read the complaint below.

Maui Film Commissioner Suit by The Hollywood Reporter on Scribd