This story originally appeared on Alaska Public Media and is republished here with permission.
Former director of the Anchorage Office of Equal Opportunity is suing the city for wrongful termination, and she says a T-shirt worn by the city’s director of human resources at a recent meeting backs up her claims .
Heather MacAlpine has been fired while investigating employee workplace complaints about Anchorage Public Library assistant director Judy Eledge. At a library advisory board meeting last week, human resources director Niki Tshibaka wore a black t-shirt that said in bold and white, “I’m with Judy,” a reference to Eledge. .
“The shirt was clearly intended to indicate that Mr. Tshibaka had no interest in serving as an unbiased HR representative who would listen fairly and objectively to employee complaints about Ms. Eledge,” the complaint from MacAlpine’s attorneys states.
According to the lawsuit, filed Thursday in Superior Court, MacAlpine was fired on May 11 when she arrived for a meeting with HR that she said was scheduled to review library employee complaints about Eledge.
Employees told MacAlpine that Eledge made comments about Alaska Natives that employees found offensive, called a children’s book about drag queens “filth,” and said movements like Black Lives Matter “were killing libraries and this country,” according to the complaint.
Employees said Eledge also made comments in the workplace about one of his subordinates with Asperger’s Syndrome and bragged that City Manager Amy Demboski said that she would not fire Eledge, according to the complaint.
The complaint states that MacAlpine had previously met with HR employees and that one of them, Adan Garcia, had “felt compelled to tell Ms. Eledge ‘You can’t say that'” in response to some of her discriminatory comments. To date, HR has not conducted a “proper investigation” into the employees’ concern, according to the complaint.
At a public library advisory board meeting last week, Tshibaka sat next to Eledge for most of the hour-long meeting. The reunion video shows Tshibaka wearing the “I’m with Judy” t-shirt. Her daughter, Denali, was on the teen liaison list at the reunion and also wore an “I’m with Judy” t-shirt, as seen in the video.
Similar shirts went up for sale on a conservative blog shortly after Alaska Public Media published an article detailing employee complaints about the work environment under Eledge and offensive comments they say they made.
[Bronson-appointed Anchorage library manager accused of racist remarks and fostering a hostile work environment]
Mayor Dave Bronson appointed Eledge to the position of assistant director of library services last year, and she has served as interim director ever since. In April, Bronson announced that Robert Hudson would be the library’s new director, but his office did not respond to a query about when Hudson would start.
Eledge is a former educator and longtime Republican Party insider. At an Assembly meeting in April, Bronson said Eledge had his “unwavering and unquestioned support.”
Under Eledge, several library workers said they were uncomfortable complaining to HR because of the director’s outspoken political views, according to ombudsman Darrel Hess.
“These employees were extremely adamant that they didn’t want to go through HR,” Hess told an Assembly business session earlier this month. “They said – they were very clear to me – they said they didn’t trust HR, the current manager is very active and politically active and they were worried that HR staff would feel under pressure regarding any investigation.”
Tshibaka’s wife, Kelly Tshibaka, is running as a Republican for the US Senate.
At the time, Hess said he referred workplace complaints to the Office of Equal Opportunity under MacAlpine and the Anchorage Equal Rights Commission.
At the library advisory board meeting, Eledge spoke about staffing issues and responded to complaints about his management.
“I don’t think I created a hostile environment. And I think if you ask the majority of people here, “Have I?” I don’t… I didn’t give the requests to anyone. I didn’t throw books off the library shelf. I get accused all the time,” she said.
She said HR told her that no written complaint had been filed against her. MacAlpine’s lawsuit claims at least four employees complained to Eledge HR. Several employees shared complaints filed with HR with Alaska Public Media.
[Anchorage Mayor Bronson appoints municipal attorney with history of supporting right-wing causes]
Before learning of MacAlpine’s lawsuit, Assemblyman Forrest Dunbar said in a phone interview Thursday that he was concerned the human resources director wearing an “I’m with Judy” t-shirt would raise the risk of an employee suing the city.
“It’s kind of like the victim showing up at a criminal trial and the judge showing up wearing a t-shirt that said, ‘Victim is lying,'” Dunbar said.
He said wearing the shirt could make it easier for a complainant to prove there was bias by human resources, who are supposed to be an impartial investigator and enforcer in labor disputes.
Hess, the ombudsman, said in a phone call Thursday that three people complained to his office about the T-shirt. He said he would likely seek an opinion from the city ethics committee on whether wearing the shirt was appropriate.
MacAlpine is seeking at least $100,000 in damages for lost wages, plus attorneys’ fees and other punitive damages.
Niki Tshibaka and the mayor’s office did not respond to questions about the lawsuit or the T-shirt.