State suggests $18,000 fine for Bergman Hotel

Commission staff say owners ignored harassment complaints

Posted: Wednesday, July 26, 2000

The staff at the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights has recommended the Bergman Hotel pay nearly $18,000 to a former employee and supply sexual harassment prevention training to its workers.

The recommendations follow hearings stemming from a five-year-old complaint.

Findings and recommendations of commission staff conclude that the owners of the Bergman fired a part-time bartender and waitress because a full-time chef, who the woman claimed harassed her, was more difficult to replace.

Steve Koteff, an attorney with the commission, said the findings, based on testimony of several witnesses, are solid. He's pretty sure the three commissioners who'll decide whether or not to go with the monetary award and training will agree with the staff report.

``I'm very confident about our prospects,'' he said. It's the first time the commission's staff has recommended a fiscal award in a couple of years, he said. The $17,877 will go to Kristen King to compensate her for lost wages, according to the recommendation.

King, the commission's staff concluded, was the subject of continuing harassment by Paul Ward. On Nov. 1, 1995, Ward was arrested on an assault charge shortly after King accused him of ``violently shoving'' and verbally abusing her, according to the staff report. He was soon released, but a condition of his release barred him from being within 50 feet of King.

Ward was not convicted of assault in connection to the alleged incident. He did not return phone calls.

Given the size of the Bergman's restaurant, the bail conditions made it virtually impossible for King and Ward to work together. King was fired over the phone the next day, the commission staff report said.

At a hearing before commission staff, the owner of the Bergman, Marguerite Scott, said there were other reasons for firing King based on her work performance. She accused King of closing the bar early, playing pool during shifts and using profanity against a customer.

The hearing officer didn't believe Scott, saying the accusations seemed ``contrived'' after the fact in an effort to undermine King's story.

Pat Conheady, the attorney representing the Bergman, said Tuesday he wanted to read the recommendation before commenting on it. He didn't return phone calls by the Empire's midday deadline today.

The Bergman has until early next month to reply to the findings. A final staff recommendation will follow. Then commissioners will decide whether or not to accept the findings and the recommended penalty. Koteff said that process should be wrapped up before the end of the year. Once the commission makes its decision, the Bergman can appeal that decision in state Superior Court.

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