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Punitive damages awarded to fired Laurel worker

A federal jury has awarded $100,000 in punitive damages to a Laurel man who was fired from his job at a major Alaska government contractor after he reported discrimination at the billion-dollar company.

The jury, which decided the case against Chugach Alaska Corp. and one of its subsidiaries after a three-day trial in Baltimore last month, also found James Blasic was owed $6,200 for inconvenience and lost pay and benefits.

Blasic’s most recent attorney, Julie C. Janofsky, said Friday afternoon that, nearly seven years after Blasic was fired, his legal odyssey is officially over.

“Because as of 20 minutes ago, you’ll see that the judgment has been paid, settled and satisfied,” the Towson attorney said, referring to her one-page U.S. District Court filing. “So there will be no post-trial motions that I’m aware of anyway.”

Neither the defense attorney in the case nor company representatives returned messages about the Aug. 26 verdict on Friday.

Chugach, a regional Alaska Native Corporation formed by federal law in 1972, does facilities operations and maintenance, among other work, all over the world, including at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda where Blasic worked. The company, which is privately held by 2,200 indigenous Alaskans, has 6,600 employees worldwide and billed more than $1 billion in 2009, according to its website.

The trouble began in May 2003 when Blasic, then finance manager for Chugach Support Services, complained that the NIH site manager was taking kickbacks from a carpenters union. Later that summer, the accused manager, David Hamlett, reprimanded Blasic. The president of the Chugach subsidiary simply told the two men to “get along,” according to U.S. District Judge William D. Quarles Jr.’s November 2009 opinion in the case.

But in mid-October 2003, Blasic again sent an e-mail to someone in the parent company’s accounting department, this time about the potential for lawsuits in the wake of Hamlett’s firing of four Hispanic employees.

At an Oct. 22, 2003, meeting with construction supervisor James Hutton to discuss the e-mail, Blasic called Hamlett a “racist” and accused Hutton of trying to cover up Hamlett’s misdeeds, according to court papers. Later that day, Hutton fired Blasic.

Blasic started at a new job on Nov. 14, 2003, and 10 days later he filed a charge with the Maryland Commission on Human Relations. He was later issued a right-to-sue letter by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In December 2003, Hamlett was fired, Hutton was removed as supervisor (and was later fired) and another higher-up connected with the incident resigned. The chief financial officer of Chugach Alaska Corp. offered Blasic his job back, but by that point the litigation was in motion and he never accepted. Blasic has had several other jobs since, according to Quarles’ opinion.

Blasic and the Hispanic employees sued the Chugach companies in December 2004, alleging various civil rights violations. In 2005, two of the other men’s claims were thrown out. In March 2006, Chugach won summary judgment on Blasic’s and his remaining co-plaintiffs’ claims based on its immunity as an Alaska Native Corporation. Just days before argument at the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the remaining co-plaintiffs settled their claims.

In May 2007, the Richmond appellate court reversed Quarles with regard to Blasic’s 42 U.S.C. § 1981 claims. In November 2009, back in district court with Janofsky representing Blasic, Quarles narrowed the case but allowed the jury to hear arguments on back pay and punitive damages claims.

Janofsky said only one current Chugach employee testified: Heysi Juarez, Blasic’s former co-worker at the NIH site.

“She described very passionately the atmosphere at the company at that time,” Janofsky said.

Janofsky said court rules did not permit her to speak with the jurors about the punitive damages award. She merely referenced the standard set out on the verdict sheet: “malice or reckless indifference to Mr. Blasic’s federally protected rights.”

BLASIC V. CHUGACH SUPPORT SERVICES, ET AL.

Court:

U.S. District (Baltimore)

Case No.:

04-4022

Proceeding:

Jury Trial

Judge:

William D. Quarles Jr.

Outcome:

Plaintiff

Award:

$106,200

Dates:

Incident: Oct. 22, 2003

Suit filed: Dec. 27, 2004

Disposition: Aug. 26, 2010

Plaintiff’s Attorney:

Julie C. Janofsky of Brocato, Price & Janofsky LLC and originally attorneys from Wiggins, Childs, Quinn & Pantazis LLC

Defense Attorney:

Harvey Levin of Thompson Coburn LLP

Count:

Retaliation