Kenai borough settles third workplace complaint against former mayor

Former Republican governor candidate and Kenai Peninsula Borough Mayor Charlie Pierce will not have to pay out of his pocket to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit brought by a former aide.

The borough assembly, meeting on April 18, said the borough will pay more than $206,000 to the aide, Pam Wastell, and a borough-owned insurance policy will pay an additional $31,250 owed by Pierce himself under the terms of an as-yet-unpublished settlement agreement.

This is the third settlement paid by the borough over Pierce’s workplace conduct. The municipality had previously paid $267,000 to settle two other complaints against Pierce, and this new settlement will bring the total to more than half a million dollars.

Neither Pierce nor the borough are required to admit wrongdoing in this latest settlement.

“I think we feel this was a success,” said Wastell’s attorney, Caitlin Shortell, but in a two-page written statement, Wastell said her complaint against Pierce resulted in financial and emotional distress that have caused her to question whether it was worthwhile to speak out.

“I am pleased that I was able to settle my lawsuit, but there’s not enough money in the world to go through what I have,” Wastell said in her statement.

“I can’t deny there are days I regret and think to myself, ‘Why did I say anything?’ Maybe I should have not reported it and kept my mouth shut. Having faced the total destruction of my career and life through this case, I now understand why women don’t report sexual harassment and sexual assault. Although I wonder if I might have been better off not reporting Pierce’s sexual harassment, it was intolerable and caused great damage to my mental and physical health,” she said.

Pierce served as the Kenai borough’s mayor between 2017 and fall 2022, when he resigned amid a borough-paid investigation into sexual harassment claims brought by Wastell.

At the time, Pierce was also a Republican candidate for governor.

Wastell filed a civil suit in October 2022 against Pierce and the borough. Pierce made few campaign appearances and received 4.5% of the first-ballot votes, last among the four finalists in the ranked-choice election for governor. He did better than that in Wrangell, where he received almost 8% of the votes last November.

Pierce has since sold his Kenai Peninsula home and has moved out of state, Shortell said. In a post on Facebook, Pierce’s wife said they now live in Kansas.

“Mr. Pierce did not admit to any fault, nor was any fault found against him. So there’s no finding or admission of liability here,” said Richard Moses, Pierce’s attorney.

During the April 18 assembly meeting, members of the body unanimously approved a statement declaring that the settlement came about only after extensive deliberation by its members and new borough Mayor Peter Micciche.

“Neither the assembly nor Mayor Micciche are happy with all aspects of the settlement. But we also recognize that years of litigation on this matter is not in the best interest of the borough, or the taxpayers. The protection of borough employees is paramount,” the statement said.

In addition to the settlement, the borough has implemented new procedures to deal with sexual harassment complaints.

Shortell said she believes more lawsuits could be filed because other former borough employees “came out of the woodwork” to contact her and Wastell after their case was filed.

In January, a former borough firefighter filed a lawsuit against the Kenai Peninsula Borough, alleging that she was fired when she complained about sexual harassment. That case has yet to be resolved.

“I think there could very well be others,” Shortell said. “I know there are other employees who are aggrieved and lost their employment.”

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization. Alaskabeacon.com.

 

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