The Kenai Peninsula Borough and Mayor Charlie Pierce have been named in a discrimination lawsuit filed by the borough’s former human resources director.
Sandra ‘Stormy’ Brown filed the lawsuit against the borough and Pierce on Jan. 22, contending she was wrongfully let go after revealing she’d been diagnosed with cancer. The diagnosis came last spring, and in September, Brown was called for a meeting with the borough attorney and the chief of staff at the time, John Quick. She was informed then of her termination, effective immediately.
Pierce allegedly reacted to Brown’s cancer diagnosis saying it, “wasn’t a big deal.” Within a month, the mayor asked the assembly for extra funds to find a temporary replacement. Assembly Member Kelly Cooper expressed her displeasure with the situation at that time during a meeting of the borough finance committee.
“I have a question ... I would like to know if it’s this administration’s policy to make changes when someone is diagnosed with incurable cancer? I’m speechless, actually.”
“I believe that an employee with an excellent performance record should not be penalized when fighting the toughest diagnosis of her life," Cooper said Friday, as news of the lawsuit became public.
Calls to the borough attorney and mayor’s offices weren’t returned, but a spokesperson for the borough, Brenda Ahlberg, had this to say Friday:
“We did receive our notification yesterday and we’ll be responding to the documents.”
She didn’t say when to expect that response or specifically who would respond. But this isn’t the first time one of Pierce’s personnel decisions has come under scrutiny.
Shortly after taking office in 2017, several at-will employees left the borough with no cause given, including then-director of the Office of Emergency Management, Scott Walden. Walden’s case in particular is noteworthy, as his departure took assembly members by surprise. A records request from the borough turned up Walden’s resignation letter that states, simply, ‘As requested, I hereby submit my resignation.'
Pierce has said, and reiterated in a November interview, that Walden and others voluntarily retired and took compensation packages with them.
“Let me just make sure that it’s clear here. We didn’t force anybody out the door. We created some conditions, in a couple cases where the individuals could afford to go and it worked well for them and it worked well for the borough. It worked well for the strategic plan as far as how we wanted to organize, how we wanted to structure the group. Your comment that there might have been this perception that we were asking people to turn in their resignations, we didn’t do that,” Pierce said.
Brown wasn’t unemployed for long after leaving the borough in September. She was hired in December as director of human resources for the city of Kenai.