Kenai jury rules against company

Posted: Friday, January 19, 2001

KENAI (AP) -- A Kenai Superior Court jury has awarded $389,000 to a former Kenai man who sued Alaska Petroleum Contractors.

The company illegally fired Dan Reust in retaliation for his role in the case of another employee who sued APC, according his attorney Eric Derleth.

In its Jan. 11 decision, the jury awarded Reust $100,000 for emotional distress, $132,200 for lost wages from the date he was fired until the trial and $156,800 for wages he might have received for the next seven years -- a total of $389,000.

''The sum, with interest and attorney's fees, is nearly $500,000,'' Derleth said. ''We go back for punitive damages March 5.''

Superior Court Judge Jonathan Link has yet to rule on several motions which, if granted, could force him to take parts of the case back from the jury -- even parts the jury already has decided, according to APC attorney Sean Halloran. If APC loses before Link, it will appeal, he said.

''There are a lot of issues that will have to go to the Alaska Supreme Court, because (the Superior Court) has decided to create new areas of law that the Supreme Court has already rejected on several occasions,'' he said. ''The Supreme Court has already said that retaliatory firing is a contract claim, but this court allowed it to be tried as a tort claim.''

Under a contract claim, he said, there would be no basis for punitive damages or awards for emotional distress or loss of future wages. But setting that aside, Halloran said, he cannot understand the recent verdict.

''There is no basis in fact or in the law for the jury having done what it did,'' he said.

According to Derleth, the history of the case dates to 1995, when Reust worked for APC at Milne Point on the North Slope. At the time, he said, APC dismissed a different employee after drug tests found traces of marijuana in his urine. However, managers told him he could have his job back if he completed a treatment program.

He did, and Reust tried to hire him back, Derleth said. But Chris Boyle, director of human resources for APC parent company Natchiq Inc., nixed the hire. The man sued, Derleth said, and Reust's deposition forced APC to settle out of court. In his deposition, Reust reportedly said APC had promised the man his job back if he completed treatment.

Reust left APC and moved to Oregon, Derleth said, but in 1998, Todd Pizzuto, APC's Nikiski manager, asked him if he would consider a job as second-in-command in Nikiski. Reust interviewed. Derleth said Pizzuto offered him the job and gave him a hiring packet, which Reust completed and returned.

Derleth said Pizzuto told Reust to report for work the next day, but later left a message that the Anchorage office had problems with his resume.

According to Derleth, Pizzuto finally told Reust that Boyle said he was unqualified for the job, had been bad-mouthing the company and had picked a fight in a bar with Gary Buchanan, a previous manager of the Nikiski yard who since had been promoted.

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