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Supreme Court of Alaska Directs Human Rights Commission to Re-investigate Complaint

The Alaska Supreme Court held in June 2012 that the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights breached its duty to conduct an impartial investigation with respect to the complaint of William M. Toliver, II alleging the Brown Jug liquor store discriminated against racial minorities in Anchorage, Alaska. During 2007 and 2008, Toliver shopped at two Brown Jug stores, Store 32 and Store 55. After a verbal altercation with the assistant manager of Store 32, Toliver was banned from that store. Toliver complained to Brown Jug executives, stating that people in the vicinity considered Store 32 to be a “whites only” store.

Brown Jug executives called a community meeting with customers with the intention that they may enumerate instances in which they encountered racism, disrespect and abuse on the part of Brown Jug’s employees. Toliver circulated a petition seeking names and contact information of area customers who experienced such abuses. The executives heard complaints, the instructed all employees of Brown Jug to treat customers fairly and with respect. Toliver was to remain banned from Store 32.

Immediately after the meeting, Toliver went to Store 55 to purchase liquor, but was refused in a communications error by an employee who was filling in for other employees who were at the meeting. Toliver later, two months after the June 2008 meeting, filed a complaint with the Commission of Human Rights alleging race discrimination by Brown Jug.

The Commission’s investigator spoke with Toliver, relaying Brown Jug’s response which characterized Toliver’s claims as meritless and unsupported, that Toliver threatened Store 32’s assistant manager. Toliver denied the threats and named the signees of the community meeting petition as witnesses, along with the manager of Store 55. The investigator spoke to Brown Jug executives, Store 32 employees, and Toliver only in preparation of her report, which dismissed Toliver’s allegations as unsupported. The Commission closed the case.

Toliver appealed the closing, but Superior Court upheld the Commission, citing lack of connection between the incident and the witnesses. Toliver appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court of Alaska concluded that the Commission’s investigator spoke only with parties representing one side of the issue and the investigation could not be construed as impartial, remanded the issue back to the Commission to conduct an impartial investigation per statute. See: Toliver v. Comm. For Human Rights, Supreme Court of Alaska, Case No.: S-14232; Superior Court No.: IJU-09-00639 CI; Opinion No: 6687, June 29, 2012.

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