OPINION: Standing up for Alaskans' rights

Many Alaskans are not aware of the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights or its constitutionally mandated purpose to enforce Alaskans’ civil rights. The commission investigates and prosecutes cases filed for discrimination in employment, places open to the public, the sale or rental of property, financing and credit, and practices by the state or local governments; based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, and physical or mental disability; and in some instances due to age, marital status, pregnancy, parenthood, or sexual orientation and gender identity.

Within the past year, the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights celebrated a major milestone by marking six decades of helping Alaskans with discrimination. In July 2023, we celebrated with government officials and Alaskans in an event on Anchorage’s Delaney Park Strip. This celebration dovetailed with the First Annual Statewide Civil Rights Conference, which we cosponsored in October with the Alaska Native Brotherhood/Alaska Native Sisterhood Camp 87 and the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission.

Lately, the commission has focused on bringing a decades-long backlog of cases to a prompt resolution by changing a process. In some situations, investigations took years to even begin.

In 2000 and 2010, legislative audits found that investigations were not timely. The commission retooled, including undertaking operational and regulatory changes in 2021 and 2022 to help improve processing times.

These efforts resulted in dramatically decreasing case resolution times, with cases (both new and old) open at any time during 2023 being an average of 231 days old, while the median was only 139 days. The average time for a case opened and closed in 2023 was only 198 days.

As we look at each category and the number of complaints filed, firings led the category of complaints by issue, and employment issues led the filings by type category. In addition, filings by race were dominated by complaints from Caucasians by a more than 4-to-1 ratio.

In 2023, the commission’s work resulted in 43 cases closed through settlement prior to litigation, while eight cases were settled during initial litigation phases. The bulk of complaints were closed after the agency found no substantial evidence of discrimination during investigation, with 111 cases closing for this reason.


In addition to reviewing and resolving new cases in a timely fashion, the commission passed a number of resolutions. As disability diagnoses and awareness increase, so do disability discrimination claims. The commission passed three resolutions associated with access for disabled Alaskans as a means to combat discrimination. The commission also wanted to ensure greater voting access for people who do not speak English and asked the Alaska Legislature to codify First Amendment protections for public accommodations who could otherwise be compelled to create speech against their sincerely held religious beliefs. To draw additional attention to human trafficking, the commission called on a number of state departments to strengthen awareness and prevention efforts.

As we look forward to the rest of 2024, the Commission pledges to continue its prompt and thorough resolution of complaints and ensure Alaskans across the state have access to the tools they need to combat discrimination.

Robert Corbisier is the executive director of the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights.

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