Alaska teachers' union sued again over former director's behavior

Ex-employee alleges discrimination in retaliation for complaint

Posted: Thursday, October 04, 2007

ANCHORAGE - Alleged workplace discrimination by the former executive director of the Alaska teachers' union, Tom Harvey, has drawn a lawsuit from the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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It's the second such lawsuit involving Harvey since 2001 and alleges that he intimidated and harassed former National Education Association-Alaska employee Denise Poole in 2005.

The suit seeks money, training on anti-discrimination laws, and posting of notices in the workplace. The suit claims that Harvey harassed Poole in retaliation after the complaint was filed and that he may have targeted other female employees with intimidation because they were women.

Last year NEA-Alaska paid $750,000 to settle an earlier suit, filed in 2001 against the organization over similar behavior by Harvey.

"What's disturbing is we believe he was engaging in this behavior while we were litigating the first (case)," said Carmen Flores, senior trial attorney with the EEOC in Seattle.

After the first suit, Harvey was promoted from assistant executive director to executive director of the union.

NEA-Alaska president Bill Bjork said in a statement that an investigation by the union found that the harassment claims were unmerited.

"We hired an impartial, outside investigator, who conducted extensive interviews and other investigations," he said. "We are disappointed that the EEOC ignored this investigation and chose to move forward with a lawsuit."

In the 2001 suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Alaska, NEA-Alaska paid the $750,000 to settle with a receptionist, a secretary and an assistant union organizer.

The three women said Harvey bullied, yelled at them and spoke to them in a profane manner, but treated male employees much better. They also said they felt physically threatened by him.

The union said it paid the settlement to spare further legal costs and did not admit wrongdoing.

Harvey could not be reached for comment. He retired last year and was replaced by Lydia Garcia.

NEA-Alaska is a statewide organization representing 13,000 teachers and education support professionals, most of whom are female.

Federal law prohibits discrimination in the workplace on the basis of race, color, religion, sex or national origin.

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