Jury deliberating in Cominco lawsuit

Posted: Friday, April 07, 2000

KOTZEBUE (AP) -- A Kotzebue jury this week started its deliberations in a sexual harassment and wrongful dismissal lawsuit brought by a Native woman against Cominco Alaska Inc., operator of the Red Dog Mine.

The case was brought in 1997 by Geri Reich of Kotzebue, who is a shareholder in NANA Regional Corp., which is Cominco's partner in the huge zinc and lead mine 70 miles northwest of Kotzebue.

The trial started March 30, with deliberations beginning Thursday. Reich is seeking at least $50,000 in damages.

Neal Kennelly, Reich's lawyer, contended that she faced sexual harassment and discrimination in a hostile work environment while she was employed as an electrician at Red Dog.

Reich started working at the mine in 1989, and became the first apprentice to become a journeyman at Red Dog. She was the only woman on her work crew.

She alleged that a hangman's noose was hung above her locker and that peepholes were drilled into the walls of the women's shower room at the mine. She also accused male employees of making lewd comments and gestures to her while she was working.

But Cominco lawyer Sean Halloran said Reich was fired in July 1995 because she failed to show up to work for four straight days.

Reich claims she missed work because she lost her checkbook, credit cards and identification and had no way to pay for a flight to the mine. She said she called the mine for advice on what to do.

Reich called the mine a few days later to say she found her missing identification and checkbook, but was told by her supervisor that she was suspended. The company fired her shortly afterward.

Kennelly argued that Cominco decided to get rid of an unpopular employee who complained regularly about the male-dominated environment at Red Dog, rather than address the source of the problem.

Lawyers for Cominco acknowledged that Reich was a competent worker and that she was not popular with male employees at the mine. But, they said, she also had a history of not showing up for work on time.

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