Former employees sue Maniilaq for wrongful termination
Two former employees of Kotzebue’s Maniilaq Association are suing in state and federal courts for wrongful discharge claiming that they were fired to prevent their further investigation into misuse and mismanagement of millions of dollars in federal and state funds by the board and employees of the association.
Patrick Anderson, former president and CEO of Maniilaq, filed suit in January 2016 in Alaska’s Second Judicial District at Kotzebue. One year later, January 2017, Thomas Myers, former “Senior Lean Sensei” filed suit in US District Court for wrongful termination, alleging that he was fired shortly after Anderson for assisting in the former president’s investigation. A pre-trial hearing was held at the Nome Courthouse on June 15 to set a tentative time frame for Anderson’s trial to be held in Kotzebue in October or November 2018.
Myers’ lawsuit also came to the forefront on June 6 when an amended complaint was filed in federal court for Nome to correct and error of the initial January filing location of Ketchikan.
Myers was fired, according to his complaint, to “prevent the continuation of and in retaliation for his work into misconduct at Maniilaq involving theft, fraud, diversion, and misuse of millions of dollars in money.”
The dismissals of Anderson and Myers lead back to what Anderson described in his court documents as doing the job he was hired to do. Anderson said he was informed shortly after being hired in October 2013 that Maniilaq was facing an operating loss of $5 million for 2013. Later he learned that the actual deficit was nearly double that and there was already a projected deficit of $5 million for 2014.
Anderson claims that the Maniilaq board of directors informed him as soon he was hired that there were “a number of non-productive positions” that they hoped he could consolidate and eliminate. Maniilaq denies having “sufficient knowledge to admit or deny the claim, and therefore denies the allegations,” according to court filings in answer to the complaint.
Upon realizing the financial state of the corporation, Anderson said he began an investigation, which he claims revealed “pervasive, systematic problems” in Maniilaq’s operations, including theft and diversion of assets. To correct the problems, Anderson terminated or disciplined employees and hired an outside investigator. Myers was the investigator hired initially on contract.
While in that job, Myers claims he became aware of problems involving conflicts of interest, self-dealing, misappropriation and “outright theft” of corporate resources by Maniilaq insiders and employers.
Nevertheless, Myers accepted a full-time position with the association in December 2013. Shortly thereafter, Maniilaq terminated Anderson in January 2014. The complaint states that Maniilaq’s decision to fire Anderson violated public policy and was “objectively unfair.”
According to court documents, Myers assisted Anderson in his investigation of “misuse and abuse of corporate resources” at Maniilaq. This collaboration, he believes, resulted in his termination in early February of 2014. Myers stated that he performed all assigned and required duties and was never told otherwise.
Furthermore, the individuals who were profiting from the corruption began a campaign to discharge both Anderson and Myers to prevent them from continuing their investigation, according to Myers’s complaint.
“Maniilaq terminated plaintiff from assisting (Anderson) and others from taking corrective actions to address the widespread misuse and mismanagement of money provided to Maniilaq by the state and federal governments,” the complaint states.
Maniilaq is a non-profit Native corporation that provides health care, social services and tribal self-governance to 12 villages in the NANA region with a reported estimated annual operating budget of $88 million. Maniilaq’s attorney Howard Trickey, from Holland & Knight, asked that Anderson’s complaint be dismissed and that, “any allegations taken against Plaintiff were for proper, business-related reasons and constituted the exercise of management discretion.”
“[Anderson’s] own conduct, omissions, and practices” caused his termination and he failed to exhaust his administrative duties before filing suit, according to court documents filed for Maniilaq.
Anderson and Myers are both represented by Juneau-based Choate Law Firm. When asked if they were considering combining the two cases given the similar circumstances, Mark Choate, responding by e-mail, said, “I don’t know. We are thinking about that.”
Choate, when asked if plaintiffs are available for comment, wrote, “They are not at this time.”
The plaintiffs seek compensation of lost earnings and benefits, future lost earnings and benefits, contract damages and attorneys’ fees. Patrick Anderson in addition seeks punitive damages as allowed by law.
The Anderson case was originally filed in Kotzebue, but was moved first to Barrow and then to Nome. The trial is still set to be in the Kotzebue Courthouse. Myers’ case was filed in federal court, as the he currently resides out of state in Georgia.
The defendant’s attorney Howard Trickey was contacted for comment but no answer was received by press time.
Prior to working at Maniilaq, Anderson served as executive director of Chugachmiut, an Anchorage-based tribal organization and is currently a tribal health administrator for a Washington state tribe. Myers now works for the Internal Revenue Service in Atlanta.