On Friday, I was told that Eric Thompson, an eyewitness to the Palin family brawl, had been fired from his job with McKenna Bros. Paving for speaking to the media about the incident. McKenna Bros. Paving is owned by twins Marc and Matt McKenna. Marc is a fellow Iron Dog racer and is friends with Todd Palin. The birthday party was for them, and was held at the house of the company’s office manager.
I quoted Thompson extensively for a story. He was also on Good Morning America. He is 56 years old, and was a project supervisor. (Full disclosure: I gave a Good Morning America producer Thompson’s number with his permission. He was reluctant to appear on camera when I spoke to him.)
The next morning, he was told that his media appearance didn’t reflect well on the company and that he was fired.
Thompson was devastated. For one, he really liked working with the McKenna brothers, whom he described as “really good guys.” Secondly, he needs the paycheck. It’s hard to find work in construction this time of the year, when companies are beginning to shed employees.
Thompson is said to have retained Kevin Fitzgerald, one of the best lawyers in the state. If that’s true, it’s unclear, what, if anything Thompson is going to do about the situation.
Fitzgerald didn’t return my calls, but I spoke to other lawyers about Thompson’s options. What I’ve been told is that Alaska is an “at will” state, basically meaning that with few exceptions, unless you have a contract or are in a union, an employer can fire you for just about any reason. But there are some exceptions. Among those is that an employer can’t fire you for gender, age, or racial discrimination. And Alaska is one of 16 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures where there are three extra protections. Read about those here.
It’s unclear if Thompson is protected in any of these, and what’s worse is that if he brings a suit and he loses, state law dictates that he pays between 20-30 percent of the lawyer’s fees for the other side. Alaska state Sen. Bill Wielechowski, who is a lawyer, said that the state used to have a public interest exception, which this might have qualified for. However, in 2003, the Legislature overturned that exception.
“Alaska is a challenging place to file a suit if you are a middle class working person,” Wielechowski said.
There a potential for a silver lining here, not for Thompson so much, but for the public and for full disclosure. If the case continues, there will likely be depositions. The Palins are among those who might be deposed.
Contact Amanda Coyne at firstname.lastname@example.org