Another former Anchorage municipal employee is suing the city over workplace discrimination issues.
Her allegations include discrimination against women by fire department leaders, racial discrimination against another female fire department employee, and being subjected to more discrimination under outgoing library Deputy Director Judy Eledge.
Attorney Caitlin Shortell is representing former Anchorage executive assistant Benedicte Galligan in her lawsuit against the city.
“Ms. Galligan is suing the municipality based on experiencing discrimination, retaliation, bad faith treatment and negligence that caused her damages,” Shortell said.
They filed suit in Anchorage Superior Court on Tuesday. According to the filing, Galligan worked for the chief of the Anchorage Fire Department for 10 years, but was laid off in January 2022. Galligan claims the layoff wasn’t truly about budget issues, but that she was targeted because she is a woman, and because she had raised various workplace concerns in 2021.
Galligan’s is one of six pending legal actions raised by former city employees involving wrongful termination and toxic work conditions over the last two years.
The mayor’s office isn’t talking publicly about these cases, including the most recent one from Galligan. A spokesman said the office could not comment on pending litigation.
Shortell said her client’s damages aren’t limited to lost wages.
“Her health has really been damaged by the working conditions and the discrimination and unfair treatment that she experienced,” Shortell said.
One incident described in the lawsuit involves a Black, female administrative assistant calling Galligan in tears. Galligan, who is white, says that admin assistant was essentially accused of trying to secretly promote the Black Lives Matter movement by distributing American Heart Association shirts to fire personnel in recognition of American Heart Month. According to Galligan, senior fire department officials believed a flag and ax graphic on the sleeve was a Black Lives Matter symbol. It isn’t – it’s a generic symbol for firefighting.
According to Galligan, a station captain told his crews it was inappropriate to promote a political agenda and not to wear them.
Galligan said she flagged the treatment of the other admin assistant for more senior fire department leaders and the city’s Human Resources Department, but never got resolution.
Both Galligan and the other admin assistant were laid off, Galligan said, in retaliation.
Fire Chief Doug Schrage could not be reached for comment Wednesday, but in a tweet emphasized that these are allegations.
“Alleged.”— Doug Schrage (@Chief_101) May 10, 2023
Galligan said after being laid off, she was transferred to a lower-paying position as an assistant to Anchorage Public Library Deputy Director Judy Eledge at the beginning of 2022. It’s Galligan who recorded Eledge making numerous racist comments highlighted in reporting last month by the Anchorage Daily News and ProPublica.
According to Galligan’s lawsuit, Eledge also disparaged and implemented discriminatory library policies against female, LGBTQ and disabled employees, as well as Alaska Native patrons.
Galligan alleges that formal complaints filed against Eledge to the city’s Human Resources Department, Equal Rights Commission and Office of Equal Opportunity were actively obstructed.
Galligan also filed complaints with the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights. She claims an investigator with the state commission told her that was a deadend because of political interference from the governor and attorney general.
Eledge is a political ally of Gov. Mike Dunleavy, who recently appointed her to a represent Alaska on a national education commission.
Galligan’s filing says working for the city contributed to a variety of health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression – even cancer.
Shortell said the conditions under Eledge were intolerable and led Galligan to resign in March.
“While, you know, commissions aren’t doing anything to investigate these complaints, the time is running on Ms. Galligan’s other claims,” the attorney said.
Eledge could not be reached for comment.
Through her lawsuit, Galligan wants to be compensated for lost wages, benefits, and earning capacity, among other damages, but doesn’t set a specific dollar figure.
Assembly Vice Chair Meg Zaletel said the resolution offers some accountability, and reflects a public outcry. She said her email and voicemail were full of requests to call out Eledge.
“I acknowledge the desire to want to put this ugly set of circumstances behind us, but frankly, the employees who’ve been subjected to terrible remarks and this behavior aren’t going to have it so easy,” Zaletel said.
Mayor Dave Bronson acknowledged he had accepted Eledge’s resignation, but none of the controversy around her.
“I want to thank Judy for her service and for moving projects, such as the future downtown library and Alaska Room collection, forward,” Bronson said. “And we wish – I personally wish her the best for her recovery from surgery.”
Amid these complaints last year when Eledge was leading the library system, Bronson told the Assembly that she was doing a great job and had his “undying and unquestioned support.”
Then Bronson fired a city employee who was investigating complaints against Eledge – including Galligan’s. A spokesman at the time said that firing was unrelated to the library and Eledge.
That former employee, Heather MacAlpine, may be close to securing a six-figure settlement for her own wrongful termination and discrimination lawsuits.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated with more details from the legal complaint and comment from the plaintiff’s attorney.