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Rural Alaska

Alaska federal agency’s co-chairman accused by female employees of harassment and discrimination

The federal co-chairman of the Denali Commission has taken leave from the agency’s Anchorage office after female employees filed civil-rights complaints against him for sexist and ageist behavior, an attorney representing some of the women said.

Jason Hoke (Denali Commission)

Jason Hoke told staff last week that he will be working from his home near Glennallen as he deals with personal matters, the commission’s chief operating officer, Chad Stovall, said Tuesday.

Hoke was appointed to the federal agency in April 2019.

The Anchorage-based commission is an independent federal agency that has improved village tank farms, docks and other rural infrastructure. It was created by the late Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens.

“I‘m aware of at least four civil rights complaints pending against Mr. Hoke for harassing and discriminating against female employees in the workplace,” said Matt Singer, a private attorney based in Anchorage. “I represent some of the complainants.”

The complaints were filed through the Department of Commerce’s Equal Employment Opportunity program.

Hoke had no comment, a family member said Tuesday after answering the cellphone Hoke had been using.

According to Singer, one of the alleged incidents happened in Hoke’s first staff meeting. Singer said Hoke is accused of sharing a translation of what he said was a Serbian quote: “Whether women are laughing or crying, they’re always lying.”

Citing some of the complaints, Singer said employees also are accusing Hoke of engaging in a pattern of “harassing and discriminating against employees, belittling employees, moving people’s offices willy-nilly just to mess with them."

Other complaints included discrimination involving employees’ ages, Singer said.

“These are examples of bad conduct by someone who should know better," Singer said.

“They are working their way through the process,” Singer said.

In a declaration by Hoke in one of the complaint cases, obtained by the Daily News, he says he has never made ageist or sexist comments.

The complaint about the Serbian quote was taken out of context, and was a conversational interaction during the meeting with one employee, Hoke says. It was not directed at anyone or the group in general, he said.

Hoke had been head of the Copper Valley Development Association in Glennallen for several years before joining the Denali Commission.

Stovall said he could not confirm or deny whether employees have filed complaints against Hoke, since those are personnel issues.

Stovall said there is concern among the roughly 15 employees in the agency that a federal co-chair needs to be available to sign off on awards for projects in villages.

Hoke’s absence has not caused any disruptions in the award process at this point, Stovall said. The agency has about a $20 million budget, he said.