On Wednesday, the ACLU of Alaska settled case against Governor Michael Dunleavy and former Chief of Staff Tuckerman Babcock
ANCHORAGE – The ACLU of Alaska and State of Alaska finalized a settlement in Blanford and Bellville v. Dunleavy on Wednesday. The settlement resolves a lawsuit after a federal district court ruled in October that the Dunleavy Administration violated the First Amendment rights of two former Alaska Psychiatric Institute (API) doctors who refused to write pledges of loyalty to the administration.
Dr. Anthony Blanford will receive a lump sum of $220,000 and Dr. John Bellville will receive $275,000 for damages, lost wages, and attorney’s fees.
Wednesday’s settlement marks the end of a years-long battle to defend the First Amendment rights of non-unionized state employees, who were subject to unprecedented demands by the Dunleavy Administration immediately after it took over state leadership in 2018. Exempt and partially exempt employees, including the doctors represented in this case, were told to provide a written pledge of loyalty to Governor Dunleavy’s political agenda and were told if they didn’t, they’d be terminated.
“In this country we’re not supposed to have to sacrifice our freedom of thought in order to keep our jobs. I hope the Governor of Alaska stops doing this to the people he is supposed to be governing,” said Dr. Bellville. “We elected him with the expectation that he would protect our freedom of speech rights, not force us to give them up under the threat of losing our livelihood.”
Neither doctor provided a pledge, as it would have been an ethical violation to put politics before the health of their patients. As such, they were wrongfully terminated.
“I hope this clarifies and strengthens the rights of those who work in government and who are not political appointees. No incursion on our basic constitutional rights should go unchallenged,” said Dr. Anthony Bellville
The settlement includes a pledge from the Governor and the State of Alaska to refrain from using people’s political affiliation as a litmus test for employment decisions.
“We hope that this settlement allows state employees to breathe a little easier knowing the behaviors the governor and his chief of staff engaged in are off-limits for all non-policymaking employees,” said Legal Director Stephen Koteff. “The court clearly concluded that they violated our clients’ rights, and this settlement extends the same legal protections to the rest of the State workforce as well.”
The State of Alaska must promptly seek legislative appropriation to satisfy the settlement.