Jury awards $3.5M to man wrongfully fired

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — A 76-year-old Anchorage man has won a wrongful termination lawsuit against a company that fired him in 2008.

An Anchorage jury awarded $3.5 million to Paul Blakeslee after he was fired while preparing a report on what he considered improper conduct by a supervisor.

The Anchorage Daily News reported that Blakeslee five years ago managed about 40 workers for Shaw Environment and Infrastructure, which was under contract to maintain facilities at Fort Richardson and Fort Wainwright at a cost of $100 million.

According to his lawsuit, Blakeslee learned that Shaw’s Alaska project manager was part-owner of another private company that was leasing about $2 million in equipment to Shaw, often without competitive bidding.

Shaw billed the military bases for the expense, according to the lawsuit.

Blakeslee said he began writing a letter to the company’s CEO about the situation and the project manager found out. The project manager, Blakeslee said, commented about Blakeslee’s age and said he “might want to go out in a blaze of glory.” Blakeslee told the project manager he did not intend to retire and the supervisor threatened to lay him off.

The conversation took place on a Friday and Blakeslee’s supervisors fired him the next Monday, claiming they were eliminating his position to save money.

More than a week after his firing, Blakeslee sent the letter to the Shaw executives. The project manager was eventually fired but Blakeslee was not reinstated.

“The thing that really got me is that their code of conduct said, if someone does not report a wrongdoing, a conflict of interest, they will be fired,” Blakeslee said. “I reported it. Now, there’s other people who went along with it, knew about it and didn’t report it, and they all got promoted.”

Blakeslee sued in October 2009 for wrongful termination and age discrimination.

Shaw is now owned by multinational conglomerate Chicago Bridge and Iron.

Company lawyers contended in court that Blakeslee’s termination was separate from his accusations.

The jury after a 12-day trial concluded that Shaw was wrong to fire Blakeslee and that it did so because he was a whistleblower.

Jurors awarded him $445,574 in lost wages and $486,458 in non-economic damages for emotional distress.

After another day of deliberations, the jury announced an award of $2.5 million in punitive damages.

Blakeslee said he expects the company to appeal.

“I probably won’t get it all, but I’ve got four kids. And I’m 76 and my wife is 81. There’s not enough time left for me to spend it,” Blakeslee said. “Charity, my kids, you know. I’m not interested in money, I was just interested in vindication.”

A spokeswoman for Chicago Bridge and Iron said the company does not comment on ongoing litigation.

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