Originally published in the Northern Journal newsletter and republished with permission.
Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s administration late last year quietly settled a lawsuit against the state’s embattled economic development agency, agreeing to pay its former spokesman $63,500 in exchange for dropping his legal claims of age discrimination and wrongful termination.
Karsten Rodvik, who was laid off in 2020, sued the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority in September 2022 for more than $1 million, claiming that his termination was illegal, arbitrary and came a year after an “outstanding” performance review and a pay raise.
Rodvik and Andy Miller, an attorney at the Alaska Department of Law, signed the four-page agreement to dismiss the lawsuit Nov. 22. The settlement declares that the agreement is for the “purpose of compromise” and “does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing.”
AIDEA and its sister agency, the Alaska Energy Authority, have been at the center of multiple controversies involving contracting, state spending and workplace conduct in recent years. AIDEA carries out some of Alaska’s most polarizing public lands initiatives, including advancing efforts to drill for oil on behalf of the state in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
The money for Rodvik’s settlement was not included in the Dunleavy administration’s request last month for supplemental spending to pay for other state legal settlements in the current fiscal year. But AIDEA released the document in response to a public records request.
The money Rodvik received, the settlement said, represents six months of wages based on his final salary.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Law, Patty Sullivan, said specific legislative appropriations aren’t necessary for settlements if there’s “sufficient money in an agency’s budget.”
She said the agreement with Rodvik was aimed at dismissing the litigation “before either side had to expend a lot of needless money pursuing or defending the lawsuit.”
Rodvik, through attorney Thomas Wang, declined to comment.
AIDEA originally hired Rodvik as a project manager in 2007, according to his complaint in the lawsuit. His firing in September 2020, the complaint said, came less than two months after AIDEA hired a new executive director, Alan Weitzner.
After finishing a probationary period, Rodvik had a constitutional right protecting him from firing without “good cause,” he said in his complaint. But in September 2020, he received a written layoff notice from Weitzner that said AIDEA was eliminating his position, the complaint said.
“Rodvik’s employment was terminated immediately, and he was provided two weeks of pay in lieu of prior notice of his termination,” the complaint said. “No other cause or justification for the termination of Rodvik’s employment was offered.”
The termination, Rodvik alleged, came less than two years after he was rated “outstanding” in every category of his performance review, which he says praised him for a “well-developed, intuitive sense” of working with media and stakeholders, “superior” work habits and earning the “respect and confidence of his peers.”
At the time of his firing, Rodvik was 66 years old, according to the complaint, which also said Weitzner made “disparaging comments” to and about Rodvik that questioned his “aptitude with recent computer technology and social media.”
His job duties, Rodvik alleged, were transferred to a newly created “communications director” position that was “virtually identical” and offered to a “substantially younger, less-experienced replacement.”
Weitzner, who announced his resignation from AIDEA in November 2022 — days before the settlement was signed — did not respond to a request for comment.
Rodvik is one of dozens of employees to leave AIDEA and its sister agency, the Alaska Energy Authority, in recent years.
Amid reports of “workplace concerns,” the Dunleavy administration conducted a human resources investigation of the agency in 2021. But the results, an administration official told a state lawmaker that year, were considered confidential, and have never been released.