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Dunleavy administration agrees to pay $85,000 to settle complaint by employee who backed recall petition

Beth Adams, left, and Keren Lowell set up a table to gather signatures of support for the effort to recall Gov. Mike Dunleavy at the Anchorage Senior Activity Center on August 23, 2019. Lowell was one of four employees at the Alaska State Council on the Arts who lost their jobs when Gov. Mike Dunleavy vetoed all of the funding for the agency. (Marc Lester / ADN archive)

JUNEAU — The state of Alaska agreed to pay $85,000 to a former state employee who was told she was blocked from employment because of her support for the campaign to recall Gov. Mike Dunleavy from office.

The out-of-court settlement was signed April 13 and announced Monday by the Alaska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which legally represented Keren Lowell, a former employee of the Alaska State Council on the Arts.

No lawsuit was filed in the issue, but the ACLU had threatened legal action, citing a state law that prohibits the state from using “political beliefs” as a reason to hire (or not) an employee for most state jobs.

Lowell worked for the Alaska State Council on the Arts in 2019 when Dunleavy vetoed all funding for the organization, causing Lowell to lose her job. Afterward, Lowell became involved in the recall movement.

After the Alaska Legislature restored funding for the arts council and Dunleavy approved it, Lowell reapplied for her job. She was told by email that her application had been rejected because of “statements made on social media about the governor.”

Lowell’s settlement agreement says that the state does not admit wrongdoing, and the payout must be approved by the Alaska Legislature. The settlement is for back pay and “noneconomic damages,” the document says.

When asked about the settlement, the governor’s office deferred comment on the matter to the Alaska Department of Law.

“This issue has been settled to the satisfaction of both parties taking into account how much a case like this costs to litigate. The Department of Law looks forward to continuing to focus the state’s attention and resources on other issues going forward, helping ensure Alaskans’ safety and well-being,” department spokeswoman Maria Bahr said Tuesday morning.

Three lawsuits — two in federal court and one in state court — have been filed by former state employees who say they were fired because of their political beliefs. No verdicts have been issued in any of those cases.

[Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that Keren Lowell was an employee of the Alaska State Council on the Arts, not its director.]