Lawsuit: Borough retaliated against harassment complaint

The suit says the borough violated the “covenant of good faith and fair dealing” and caused “severe emotional distress”

Kachemak Emergency Services logo.

Kachemak Emergency Services logo.

The Kenai Peninsula Borough violated the Alaska Human Rights Act when it fired an employee who complained about sexual harassment, a lawsuit filed in Anchorage Superior Court on Monday alleges.

The suit was filed by Courtney Moody, who worked as a firefighter technician for the Kachemak Emergency Service Area under the Kenai Peninsula Borough from November 2019 to January 2021 after having worked as a volunteer at the same agency. Moody alleges that she was sexually harassed by agency’s deputy chief and was fired after she reported it.

“(The Kenai Peninsula Borough) knew or should have known about the endemic sexual harassment and discrimination within KESA but did nothing about it, except to victimize the victim, Ms. Moody, by illegally firing her,” the suit alleges.

According to the lawsuit, Mark Clinton, who was hired as KESA’s deputy chief in November 2020, told Moody that he fantasized about other KESA women “showering naked,” would “slap things out of” her hands and referred to her as a “whore” multiple times. The suit says Moody reported the misconduct to KESA Chief Robert Cicciarella on a regular basis, but was told by Cicciarella that she needed “more proof.” Clinton is not named as a defendant in Moody’s case.

Clinton was ultimately fired by the Kenai Peninsula Borough, but so was Moody. The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Human Resources Department said Friday that Clinton was officially employed by the borough from Nov. 4, 2020, to Jan. 20, 2021. Moody was employed by the borough from May 1, 2018, to Jan. 26, 2021.

Moody’s suit says that the Kenai Peninsula Borough violated the “covenant of good faith and fair dealing” and caused her “severe emotional distress.” The suit also says the borough violated the Alaska Human Rights Act, a state law that, among other things, prohibits employment and other discrimination on the basis of sex.

“The Human Rights Law also makes it illegal for an employer to retaliate against an employee for opposing any practice forbidden under the Human Rights Law, or because the person has filed a complaint, testified, or assisted in a proceeding under the Human Rights Law,” the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights’ website says.

Moody said Monday that she moved away from Homer after being terminated by the borough and has spent the last two years “starting over.”

“I endured a lot and reported it and it never went anywhere,” Moody said Monday.

When asked about the timing of the lawsuit, Moody cited the borough’s statute of limitations on when complaints against employees can be filed. Kenai Peninsula Borough code says that complaints against employees cannot be made more than two years after an alleged violation occurred.

In deciding to file suit, Moody said she wants to see the way the complaints are investigated within the borough changed.

“I have a voice and I want to be heard,” Moody said.

Moody’s suit comes as the borough faces similar allegations from a different employee. Pamela Wastell alleges in a lawsuit filed last October that the Kenai Peninsula Borough failed to protect her from alleged repeated sexual harassment by former Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce, to whom she served as an assistant.

Pierce, who was running for governor at the time of the alleged incidents and when the suit was filed, ultimately resigned as borough mayor after an independent investigation found the allegations to be “credible.” Both Pierce and the Kenai Peninsula Borough are named as defendants in that case.

Casey Fetterhoff is a KESA volunteer who worked with Moody while Clinton was at the agency.

Fetterhoff, named in the suit as the author of a letter describing Clinton’s behavior, said Wednesday that he had his own concerns about Clinton that he shared with Cicciarella in a letter dated Jan. 16. Fetterhoff in that letter, which was shared with the Clarion, outlined derogatory comments he said Clinton made during a COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Homer, which he said prompted him to speak up about his concerns.

“I would not have stuck my neck out far enough to put this all in writing, if I did not personally believe he will be the cause of great, substantial harm to KESA, it’s members, and it’s standing in the community, if this behavior is allowed to persist,” Fetterhoff wrote in the letter.

In writing the letter, Fetterhoff said he was hoping to be told by his superiors that those concerns were being investigated. What Fetterhoff said he was not expecting was for Moody to be fired in addition to Clinton. Moody’s termination made Fetterhoff question whether he would face retaliation for speaking up about his concerns, he said.

“Oh boy, maybe I’m next because I wrote the letter about Mark,” Fetterhoff told the Clarion he remembers thinking.

Fetterhoff said that while he did not receive a written response from Cicciarella in response to the letter, Clinton was fired from the agency four days later.

A Feb. 1, 2021, letter written by KESA officers to volunteers and shared with the Clarion on the condition of anonymity, says a staff meeting was held “last Tuesday,” or, on Jan. 26, 2021. The Kenai Peninsula Borough’s Human Resources Department said Friday that Moody was employed with the borough until Jan. 26. The letter provides a response to the question of “Why were personnel changes made?” although neither Moody nor Clinton were mentioned by name.

“In this case the officers, management, and administration all moved quickly and in concert to ensure that the situation was understood and dealt with as properly as possible as soon as we were physically able,” the letter says. “Where human thought, feelings, and understanding is concerned it’s true that resolutions to problems are rarely ever perfectly clean and it’s rare that all parties emerge happy and content.”

Kenai Peninsula Borough Attorney Sean Kelley said Friday the borough has not yet been served the suit and therefore does not have a comment on or response to the allegations therein.

Cicciarella on Thursday referred media inquiries regarding the lawsuit to the Kenai Peninsula Borough’s legal department. The Clarion was unable to contact Mark Clinton for comment.

Reach reporter Ashlyn O’Hara at ashlyn.ohara@peninsulaclarion.com.

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