High court finds merit in housing employee lawsuit

Posted: Tuesday, September 18, 2001

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Alaska's highest court has overturned the dismissal of a lawsuit brought by a former employee of the Interior Regional Housing Authority.

Gidget Lincoln charged the agency with laying her off in retaliation for cooperating with a 1995 federal Department of Housing and Urban Development study into IRHA operations.

Lincoln, daughter of state Sen. Georgianna Lincoln of Rampart, began working for the IRHA in March 1992 as a collections officer. She was laid off in February 1995.

The Alaska Supreme Court found that there was enough evidence to support Lincoln's claims and reopen the case.

''She points to evidence that management threatened her with retaliation if she cooperated with HUD's investigation,'' the Supreme Court ruling said. ''Despite the threats, she cooperated with the investigators, and there was only a short period of time between her cooperation and her dismissal.''

The court sent the case back to Fairbanks Superior Court for further action.

HUD was investigating irregularities at the IRHA, including large cost overruns and unaccounted-for inventory. That investigation began in January 1995 and concluded with the issuing of a corrective action order by HUD early that March.

In addition to the layoff, Lincoln accused the IRHA of failing to make a reasonable effort to rehire her. She was not recalled when an accounts receivable/billing collection clerk position opened in July 1995.

The agency offered her the opportunity to apply for a position as a housing counselor. However, Lincoln, who had moved to Seattle but wanted her old job back, was told she would not be reimbursed for relocating and would be subject to a probationary period. She was not hired for the position.

Lincoln sued, claiming breach of contract, violation of the Alaska Whistleblower Act, violation of her due process rights, emotional distress and other violations. In February and July 1999, Superior Court Judge Ralph Beistline dismissed the suit, concluding that the layoff was due to financial circumstances.

The agency said it was unable to meet the entire payroll at the time of the layoff. It said Lincoln's position was eliminated after her departure.

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