State offers $750,000 to former human rights commission director to settle discrimination suit

The state has offered to pay $750,000 to the former executive director of the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights, after she said she was fired as a result of discrimination.

In a lawsuit filed last October by Marilyn Stewart against the commission responsible for investigating complaints of discrimination, Stewart alleged that because she is Black, a woman and a military veteran, two former commissioners convinced others to vote to terminate her employment in 2019, after less than a month on the job.

The settlement agreement between Stewart and the commission is subject to approval by the state Legislature. If the Legislature does not approve the settlement by the summer of 2024, Stewart may resume litigation.

As part of the settlement, the state did not admit it had been liable for discrimination. However, a statement from the commission released Wednesday says that the commission acknowledges the findings of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which found last year that “there is reasonable cause to believe that (Stewart) was denied equal wages or the opportunity to negotiate for higher wages because of her sex/female and her race/Black in violation of Title VII.”

The commission’s “mission is to eliminate and prevent discrimination for all Alaskans. The individuals who voted to terminate Ms. Stewart are no longer serving as commissioners, and ASCHR’s current leadership is fully committed to its mission,” the statement from the commission reads.

In an email, Stewart called the settlement “fair” and said that “the fact that the Commission was willing to come to the table and resolve my claims on reasonable terms is a sign that things have changed over there.”

In her lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court of Alaska, Stewart asked, in addition to damages, to be reinstated as executive director of the commission. If the settlement is approved by the Legislature, she must forego that demand.

“With the settlement behind me, I’m now ready to move on, although I hope to remain in public service,” Stewart said by email.

Iris Samuels

Iris Samuels is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News focusing on state politics. She previously covered Montana for The AP and Report for America and wrote for the Kodiak Daily Mirror. Contact her at isamuels@adn.com.