Jury finds no discrimination for Guard job

Posted: Sunday, April 29, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- A jury in federal court has rejected a discrimination case brought by an Alaska Native against the Alaska Air National Guard.

The jury deliberated for four hours before reaching a verdict Friday in a U.S. District Court civil trial that began Wednesday.

Steve Armstrong, a 40-year-old Athabascan from North Pole, filed the suit after a white man was hired to fill a position for which he claimed he was more qualified.

Armstrong also argued that he was mistreated by his supervisor, who was part of a three-person panel that selected another man for the full-time civilian position in 1998.

Armstrong's attorney, Robert Sparks, said he plans to appeal the jury's decision.

Sparks argued that Armstrong's former supervisor, Steve Stalker, treated him more harshly than his co-workers at Eielson Air Force Base because he was a Native.

The Guard's defense attorney, Retta Randall, admitted Stalker was ''a jerk and he's overbearing,'' but said he treated everybody in the shop the same.

Armstrong worked as a hydraulic systems technician maintaining Eielson's KC-135 refueling planes from 1996 to 1999. Stalker was his supervisor then, and is still running the five-person shop.

While he didn't get the position he wanted in 1998, Armstrong was offered the same job in January 1999.

Armstrong's lawsuit sought damages of at least $28,000 -- the amount he could have earned beyond his salary at Alaska Airlines during that time. He also sought compensation for emotional distress because he had to support his wife and five children with a significantly lower wage.

Armstrong later transferred to a Guard supply unit, saying he did so because of stress from working in a racially hostile environment.

Two of Armstrong's co-workers testified that Stalker was tougher on Armstrong and sometimes called him ''idiot'' and ''Goober'' after the slow but handy mechanic on the Andy Griffith Show.

But when Armstrong interviewed for the full-time civilian position in 1998, Robert Hicks, one of the interviewers, said he rated the applicant who got the job, Dave Hoskins, higher than Armstrong.

''To me, he (Hoskins) was more energetic, he expressed more with his knowledge. He went into more detail about work experience. He had good supplementary statements,'' Hicks said.

Hicks said he didn't know any of the applicants before the interview.

Armstrong's lawyer argued that Hoskins had worked seven years as a crew chief, overseeing overall maintenance of an aircraft but was a ''jack of all trades, master of none.''

The Guard's lawyer countered that Hoskins was qualified enough and had experience in hydraulics systems as well as overall aircraft maintenance.

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