When the United States purchased the great state of Alaska from the Russian Empire in 1867, the average going price per acre was just two cents. In retrospect, the purchase was a wise investment. Today, Alaska boasts a thriving economy based on tourism, mineral and fuel exploration, fishing, and timber.
The state is physically cut off from the rest of the “contiguous” United States, and as 2008 Vice Presidential candidate Governor Sarah Palin observed, Alaska is geographically closer to Russia than it is to any other U.S. state. Alaskans value independence and persistence, and they take moral guidance not only from the “Lower 48” but also from the teachings of the native Alaskan Inuit and Indians.
The Alaska State Commission for Human Rights is the public body in charge of overseeing and enforcing employment discrimination laws. This commission is a seven person group directly appointed by the governor. To qualify for the Commission, nominees must be confirmed by the Alaska legislature. The ASCHR is based out of Anchorage and takes employment complaints from across the state. Pursuant to Alaska’s statute charter 18.80, it is illegal to discriminate on the basis of religion, color, national origin, sex, physical or mental disability, or race.
In some cases, it is also illegal to discriminate on the basis of parenthood, marital status (or changes in marital status), pregnancy, and age. The Commission accepts complaints, investigates them, tries to settle them when possible, and offers training to ensure that employers comply with stipulations set forth by the Alaska Human Rights law. Commissioners also have enforcement power to end discriminatory practices, order reinstatement and back pay, and hold public hearings.
Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin’s stance on disability discrimination attracted much media attention during the 2008 Presidential election, partly due to the fact that Palin has a special needs son herself.
Although the above laws and organizations continually work towards the goal of a fair and equitable workplace for all employees, employers in Alaska sometimes overstep their legal bounds. Whether intentional or unintentional, violations of state and federal law cause detrimental effects to individuals and workforces alike. These include:
- Retaliation. When an employer demotes, fires, refuses promotions, cuts hours, creates negative reviews, or otherwise imbues a “hostile work environment” in response to an employee’s reporting of violations, this constitutes an unlawful practice.
- Hour and wage claims. Employees entitled to overtime, tips, or other pay may have a case against employers who withhold these payments. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) provides legal protection for such individuals.
- Disability discrimination. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 covers those with – or appearing to have – a mental or physical impairment limiting a major life function. Under the ADA, employers must provide “reasonable accommodation” to such individuals and not treat them in a discriminatory manner.
If you believe that you’ve suffered employment discrimination in Alaska due to mental or physical disability or any of the other reasons stipulated above, contact an employment attorney or one of the government agencies listed above can help you navigate the complicate legal waters and obtain the justice you deserve.