Alaska Supreme Court Upholds $479,000 Wrongful Termination Verdict Opinion addresses important concepts for wrongful termination claims filed by union employees

Davis Wright Tremaine LLP

The Alaska Supreme Court issued a new opinion on April 15, 2011, in the case of Alaska Airlines et al. v. Chang-Craft, in which it upheld a $479,000 wrongful termination verdict for a union employee.


Deborah Chang-Craft worked for Alaska Airlines as a customer service agent. A co-worker, William Cameron, invited Chang-Craft to see his “new baby” and proceeded to use her computer to show her a gun. Chang-Craft told Cameron to leave her alone. Cameron later contended that Chang-Craft also said, “It’s a good thing I do not have a gun or else I would use it.”

Management interviewed Cameron the next day about the altercation. Cameron allegedly reported that Chang-Craft had threatened to shoot fellow employees. No one interviewed Chang-Craft or discussed the circumstances with her. Instead, a manager yelled for Chang-Craft and told her that she was being suspended. Chang-Craft collected her things from her personal locker. Leaving the building, she stated, “I am not stepping foot inside this [expletive] place again.” Alaska Airlines terminated Chang-Craft.

Chang-Craft grieved her termination. Three shop stewards represented her at a Step One level grievance with Alaska Airlines. Alaska Airlines denied the grievance. A follow-on Step Two level grievance was also denied. The union then appealed for arbitration. However, four months later the union notified Chang-Craft that it had tentatively decided to withdraw her grievance after “reviewing the facts of your grievance, the contract language and any prior arbitration awards which would be applicable to your case.” No evidence was ever produced that the union had actually reviewed any facts or any prior arbitration awards.

Chang-Craft retained counsel to respond to the union’s tentative decision. The union advised that it would re-open the matter. However, 15 months later, the union switched gears again and advised both Alaska Airlines and Chang-Craft that it would not proceed with her grievance. The union never explained its decision. One shop steward later testified that she did not think that the union had fairly represented Chang-Craft.

Chang-Craft filed suit alleging wrongful termination. She also alleged a defamation claim against Cameron because his report that she had threatened to shoot employees was presumably the cause of her termination.

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