State settles for $85K in retaliation case

Keren Lowell was barred from her job after criticizing Dunleavy’s proposed budget cuts, according to lawsuit.

The State of Alaska has agreed to pay a former employee an $85,000 settlement in a retaliation case, according to a press release from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Keren Lowell was barred from her job with the Alaska State Council on the Arts after posting on social media in opposition of Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s proposed budget cuts in the summer of 2019, the release stated.

“Ms. Lowell became a target in the Dunleavy Administration’s brazen crusade against Alaska’s dedicated public servants,” said ACLU of Alaska Legal Director Stephen Koteff in the release. “While today’s settlement is a victory, there is truly no adequate remedy for the intolerable attacks by Alaska’s government on its own people.”

Lowell had worked for the council for eight years before Dunleavy voted to defund it on June 28, 2019, resulting in an immediate mass layoff of all personnel. But after public outcry in opposition of the cuts, Dunleavy reversed course, according to the ACLU release.

“Most employees were allowed to return to work, but Lowell was not rehired,” the release stated. “In an email to Lowell, a state official told Lowell that her rehire was unauthorized because she had publicly criticized Dunleavy while she was laid off.”

In December 2019, the ACLU of Alaska sent a letter to Dunleavy stating the agency’s intent to sue for retaliation, and had been in negotiations with the state since. According to the release, on April 13 the state settled and agreed to pay Lowell $85,000 for lost wages and other damages.

“Using my voice is my First Amendment right, as guaranteed by the Alaska and US Constitutions,” Lowell said in the release. “I would never have imagined that any administration would target and punish me for exercising this right. Settling this is a big victory, and my hope is that it helps cease this sort of retaliatory behavior from our government in the future.”

Reach reporter Camille Botello at camille.botello@peninsulaclarion.com.

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