A former Anchorage library and fire department employee is suing the city, accusing the municipality of discrimination and retaliation.
Elements of the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in state Superior Court by Benedicte Galligan, mirror a lawsuit filed by Heather MacAlpine, the former director of the city’s Office of Equal Opportunity. MacAlpine accused Mayor Dave Bronson of firing her after she tried to report claims of discrimination and bullying under library official Judy Eledge. The city is considering paying a settlement in that case.
The new lawsuit was filed the same day the mayor’s office said that Eledge was resigning as the library’s deputy director. Monday will be Eledge’s last day on the job.
Galligan was one of the employees who complained about Eledge. But the claims in her new lawsuit go beyond the library to include allegations against the Anchorage Fire Department, where Galligan worked for 10 years until the city cut her job and transferred her to the library.
In her lawsuit, Galligan says she began working as an executive assistant to the Anchorage fire chief in 2011. She claims that in January 2022, the city eliminated her position at the department and the position of a Black female employee after Galligan reported race discrimination against her co-worker.
The lawsuit is rooted in an incident Galligan says happened in February 2021, under then-Acting Mayor Austin Quinn-Davidson. The co-worker called Galligan after some fire department employees refused to wear T-shirts for American Heart Month because they believed the shirts had a Black Lives Matter symbol on them, the lawsuit said. According to the lawsuit, the T-shirts included a graphic on the sleeve depicting a flag with an ax, two symbols commonly used by fire departments.
The department’s finance officer also confronted Galligan about the T-shirts, and Galligan said she did not believe the shirts contained a Black Lives Matter symbol, the lawsuit asserts. The finance officer then insisted it was a Black Lives Matter symbol and said, “We wouldn’t be having the conversation if she wasn’t Black,” according to the lawsuit. Galligan reported the incident as race discrimination to the fire chief and two other supervisors.
Later, after Bronson took office, only Galligan and her co-worker’s positions were eliminated from the fire department, according to the complaint. While Galligan was told the positions were being cut for budgetary reasons, the lawsuit says, other male employees at the fire department were added, retained or promoted.
Galligan was effectively demoted and transferred by the city to the Anchorage Public Library to work under Eledge in early 2022, according to the complaint.
“MOA’s elimination of Galligan’s position was both discriminatory based on sex and retaliatory for Galligan’s opposition to the race discrimination she reported and opposed,” the lawsuit asserts.
Then, at the library, Eledge “subjected Galligan to intimidation, discriminatory speech, and unfair treatment on a regular basis” and Galligan was “constantly subjected to Eledge’s discriminatory and threatening tirades and lectures,” the lawsuit asserts.
Galligan was forced to resign this spring due to the hostile work environment and the city’s “obstruction of investigation of her complaints,” the lawsuit claims.
The hostile working conditions caused Galligan severe emotional distress and a “dramatic decline in her physical and mental health,” the lawsuit claims.
A spokesman for the mayor’s office declined to comment on the lawsuit. In a prior response to MacAlpine’s related lawsuit, the city disputed that MacAlpine was fired in retaliation for acting as a whistleblower and denied claims that Eledge made racist statements.
But Galligan and others secretly recorded some of Eledge’s remarks. Library employees said they made the recordings because they were afraid that no one would believe them or act on their complaints.
Galligan’s lawsuit is seeking that she be paid lost wages and benefits, including lost future wages and earning capacity, plus compensatory damages, costs and attorney’s fees.
The city negligently breached its duty of reasonable care, including by hiring and retaining Eledge and by failing to investigate Galligan’s complaints to human resources, the Office of Equal Opportunity and the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission, Galligan asserts in the complaint.
By placing her to work under Eledge, the city subjected Galligan to “constant and egregious remarks threatening to fire employees and denigrating women, Alaska Native people, persons with disabilities, and LGBTQ+ people, and its agents’ negligent investigation or obstruction of investigations,” including firing MacAlpine to stop investigation of Galligan’s complaints, the lawsuit says.
Galligan’s lawsuit references other legal claims of retaliation the city is facing, asserting that her experiences are “part of a discriminatory culture at the Municipality where women and people of color are treated less favorably than white men and where employees suffer retaliation for opposing discrimination.”
Former municipal manager Amy Demboski, whom Bronson fired in December, has accused the mayor and his administration of retaliatory termination, violating city laws, acting unethically, discriminating against women and creating and tolerating a hostile work environment.
The Anchorage Assembly on May 23 is set to consider a proposal from Bronson to pay a total of $827,500 to settle the separate legal claims of MacAlpine and Demboski.
Two other former city employees have also claimed they were wrongfully fired under the Bronson administration. Former Chief Equity Officer Clifford Armstrong III sued the city and later accepted a settlement in the amount of $125,000, according to his attorney. Former real estate director Christina Hendrickson has sued the city, claiming she was fired in retaliation after filing a whistleblower’s complaint. That case is currently awaiting trial.