State Law: Alaska

 

The Law


The Alaska Human Rights Law, Chapter 18.80, makes it illegal for an employer or labor organization to discriminate against someone on the basis of sex.


An "employee" under the Human Rights Law is defined as, "an individual employed by an employer but does not include an individual employed in the domestic service of any person. Under Alaska law, an "employer" means, "a person, including the state and a political subdivision of the state, who has one or more employees in the state but does not include a club that is exclusively social, or a fraternal, charitable, educational, or religious association or corporation, if the club, association, or corporation is not organized for private profit."


Thus, the Alaska statute against discrimination in the workplace applies to all employers with one or more employees, while Title VII only applies to employers with 15+ employees.


The Human Rights Law specifically covers employment discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, age, sex, marital status, national origin, physical/mental disability, pregnancy, and parenthood.


Section 18.80.220 of the Human Rights Law makes it illegal for an employer to "discriminate in the payment of wages as between the sexes, or to employ a female in an occupation in this state at a salary or wage rate less than that paid to a male employee for work of comparable character or work in the same operation, business, or type of work in the same locality."


Alaska is thus a "comparable work" state, meaning that to succeed on an equal pay claim, a plaintiff must show that she is paid less than men in comparable positions. The federal Equal Pay Act requires that the work be "equal," which is a tougher standard to meet.


Filing A Complaint


The Alaska State Commission for Human Rights investigates complaints filed with it free of charge. Complaints must be filed within 180 days of the date you were discriminated against. You may file a complaint with the Commission by visiting the office, located at 800 A Street, Suite 204, in Anchorage. You may also calling 907-274-4692 or 800-478-4692.


The Commission tries to achieve early settlement in most cases, after which it will conduct an investigation if the complaint is not settled or withdrawn. An investigator will be assigned to your case, who will act as a neutral decision-maker to determine whether there is reasonable cause to believe you have been discriminated against and your rights violated.


If probable cause is found, you and your employer may be required to attend conciliation in an attempt to negotiate a settlement. If settlement negotiations fail, a public hearing will be held by a hearing officer. If your case goes to public hearing, you will not have to incur any legal expenses or other costs, as you would have to pay in a court case, unless you hire your own private attorney. The Commission files cases on behalf of itself and not in the name of the individual that files the complaint. However, you can retain your own counsel at any point throughout the process.


You may decide to go through the federal or state court process instead of the Commission’s investigative process. You must first file with the EEOC and request a Notice of Right to Sue letter in order to file in federal court. However, there is no "exhaustion" requirement for state court, which means that you can file directly in Alaska state court without filing first with the Commission. The attorney you hire can explain this process to you.


Many Alaska attorneys choose to file employment discrimination cases in federal court. However, most cases may be brought in either state or federal court. State law limits damages and attorney fees for a discrimination claim.


The "comparable work" standard under Alaska law is better than the "equal work" standard under federal law, which may be an incentive to file in state court for an equal pay claim. However, the employer may choose to "remove" the claim to federal court if suit is filed under federal law.


For more information and a more detailed explanation of the complaint process, please go to the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights website.