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Court filings expose power struggle over sex harassment charges at Alaska Native corporation Calista

Calista Corp. headquarters in Anchorage. (Sarah Bell / ADN / archive)

Accusations of sexual harassment at an Alaska Native regional corporation have erupted into a lawsuit that pits the company's chief executive and board of directors against its now-removed chairman.

Andrew Guy, Calista’s chief executive (Alaska Journal of Commerce archive)

The two camps are fighting over the CEO's handling of a woman's complaint about another company official, who was working with the woman on a business deal.

The allegations prompted an internal investigation by the corporation, Calista, which found the employee sent the woman flowers, a six-page handwritten love letter and Victoria's Secret underwear. The underwear, the woman said, arrived "out of the blue." The official had also shown up outside her house in Colorado, even though the woman said she'd forbidden him from doing so.

The Calista official, identified by Bethel public radio station KYUK as George Owletuck, has now vanished: His wife, in a sworn statement this week, said she doesn't know where he is.

Owletuck, who was Calista's government relations liaison, was fired last year. But the fight over the response by the chief executive, Andrew Guy, has dragged on for months, highlighting the company's internal power struggles and the allegations of bad behavior by a top executive.

On one side is Guy, the CEO who earned $435,000 in 2016 to oversee the day-to-day operations of Calista, which has 2,600 employees split between the company and its subsidiaries. Guy is backed by the majority of Calista's board of directors — which sets company strategy on behalf of about 25,000 shareholders — along with attorneys and a public relations consultant they've hired to work with them.

Guy says the woman, in an initial phone call with him in August, complained of offensive conduct by Owletuck without mentioning its sexual nature.

Instead, Guy says, the woman described Owletuck's persistent, unwanted contacts as an effort to get her to mentor Owletuck's daughter. The daughter was going to a Colorado mountain retreat founded by the woman's ex-husband, a self-described Daoist priest and healer.

On the other side is Wayne Don, the former board chair.

Wayne Don

Don and his attorneys say the woman gave Guy enough information to make it clear Owletuck committed serious misconduct.

They say Guy was protecting Owletuck, a longtime friend. The two Calista officials were college classmates and went moose hunting together last fall.

Don says Guy should have formally reported Owletuck to the company's human resources department or called for an investigation based on the woman's complaints. Guy instead referred the woman to another Calista employee, who later reported the accusations to his superiors.

But Don, who works for the Alaska Army National Guard, couldn't get a majority of his colleagues on the Calista board to agree with his case against the chief executive.

Instead, over the course of the winter, Calista board members dismissed Don's proposal to suspend Guy. They also stripped Don of his chairmanship and called for his resignation from the board.

Don's efforts to investigate Guy's behavior and related matters exceeded Don's authority and violated Calista's bylaws and the board's code of conduct, majority board members say.

They argue that Don's actions amount to a political, self-promotional effort to remove Guy from his job.

Willie Kasayulie (Courtesy Calista)

"If there are any issues that may arise regarding management, it's the chairman's responsibility to inform the board, not to go on their own to conduct their own investigation or hire people or talk to staff," Willie Kasayulie, who chairs Calista's corporate governance committee, said in an interview Tuesday. Kasayulie spoke at the company's Anchorage headquarters with Guy seated beside him.

Don, through one of his attorneys, declined to comment.

Calista, the Native corporation for much of Western Alaska, asked a judge last month to remove Don from the company's board of directors and block his public criticism of the company and its leadership.

This week, Don won a partial victory in that lawsuit.

The company had claimed that Don's criticism of Guy and the corporation's board was a misleading effort to influence Calista's upcoming board elections. But in a ruling Monday, Anchorage Superior Court Judge Andrew Guidi denied the corporation's request for a temporary restraining order against Don, his attorney Sam Fortier and another critic, Harley Sundown.

"The answer to questionable criticism should be information, discussion and debate, not lawsuits," Guidi wrote in his six-page order.

George Owletuck (Courtesy Calista)

Owletuck is a former aide to the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens and state Sen. Lyman Hoffman of Bethel; he's also worked as a consultant to Alaska Native organizations. He was an honorary co-chair of Donald Trump's 2016 presidential campaign in Alaska.

Owletuck could not be reached for comment.

People from Marshall, his home village, believe he left the country for Ecuador or the Philippines, according to Fortier, one of Don's attorneys.

Owletuck's wife filed for dissolution of her marriage Wednesday in Anchorage, saying in a sworn statement that she does not know where Owletuck is, and that a brother-in-law told her Owletuck is "out of the country."

Calista announced Owletuck's hiring in 2014. That was a year after the state released an audit of a project he worked on in the village of Newtok that said Owletuck was paid $20,000 for "bogus reasons."

Guy, in the interview, said Calista was unaware of the audit when it hired Owletuck, in spite of media coverage of its findings.

Calista's senior human resources director, Heather Spear, also prepared a report, at Don's request in November, that described five previous incidents of bad behavior by Owletuck, dating back to 2014.

One was an altercation in Juneau where, while intoxicated, Owletuck made "inappropriate and offensive comments" to state legislators, the report said.

It also said Guy had been made aware of four of the incidents, including two in which Owletuck was accused of making inappropriate comments to female employees and another in which a female employee told her supervisor that Owletuck was watching her.

The report said senior Calista employees were afraid Guy would retaliate against them for taking action against Owletuck. A Calista attorney told Spear that by investigating the Juneau altercation, "she was putting her job on the line," Spear's report said.

"I felt the same way," Spear wrote.

Guy also rejected a recommendation from Spear and the attorney that Owletuck be suspended or fired after the Juneau incident, the summary said.

Calista's attorneys strongly dispute the accuracy of Spear's report, saying she prepared it under pressure from Don. The attorneys said Guy was not actually informed of any of the alleged incidents involving Owletuck, except the one in Juneau. They said two of the events summarized by the report are not in Owletuck's official personnel file.

"The information that she included in that two-page document that she did at the direction of Wayne Don — and gave only to Wayne Don and no one else — was wrong, was inaccurate and contrary to what was in the documents that she prepared in the ordinary course of her duties," said Walter Featherly, an attorney hired by Calista who sat in on the interview with Guy and Kasayulie.

He added: "Human memories are faulty."

Spear responded to those comments in a text message Thursday.

"None of that information was fabricated," she said. "Andrew Guy was aware of George's unacceptable behavior."

Asked about the employees who Spear's report described as fearing retaliation, Guy said he was "really surprised." He said they don't have reason to be afraid, and added that he doesn't think Calista needs to do anything differently because the "constant message" he's given to employees is that "we are a team."

"We work with respect," Guy said.

The woman whose allegations are at the center of the dispute came into contact with Calista after a meeting in July between her ex-husband, Guy and Owletuck, according to the company's internal investigation. The woman's name is redacted from court documents, and her attorney declined to comment.

Owletuck and the woman's ex-husband were friends and pitched Guy on the potential for Calista to buy the woman's Colorado-based business, according to the investigation.

The company had no operations, the investigation said. But it held patents and intellectual property related to a construction system for buildings designed to withstand environmental disasters and terrorist attacks, according to the investigation and an archived version of the company's website, which has been removed from the internet.

After Guy said he would consider a proposal, Owletuck and the ex-husband called the woman to tell her about the possibility of a sale, according to the investigation. The investigator, in her report, suggested that the ex-husband was motivated by the possibility of a "finder's fee," in which he could be paid a small share of the company's sales price.

The investigator's report described an escalating string of interactions between the woman and Owletuck, starting with a long phone call. He sent flowers on her birthday and the love letter, according to the investigation.

There were two packages from Victoria's Secret, which the woman said were opened by her children, the investigation said. One contained six pairs of black lace underwear and two bottles of massage oil, and a second had two black bras, according to the investigation.

In August, when Owletuck was dropping off his daughter at the ex-husband's retreat in Colorado, he pulled up in a car outside the woman's home, even though she told Calista's investigator that she had "forbid" him from doing so. Owletuck later told the investigator that he was trying to show his daughter the only house she was allowed to visit while staying at the retreat.

The woman told the investigator that she tried to ignore Owletuck's conduct because he was, effectively, a gatekeeper who could help her sell her company to Calista.

When Owletuck was interviewed by the investigator, he denied that his contact was unwanted. He said the woman spoke freely and told him she was a single parent to signal her openness to more than a professional relationship.

The woman is "very personable" and referred to the Calista investigator as "sweetie" during an interview, the investigator wrote.

The woman also acknowledged sending Owletuck a poem by Rudyard Kipling and sharing information with him about her personal life, but she maintained that she would have done those things with any "business acquaintance," the investigator wrote. And when the woman received the first Victoria's Secret package, she told the investigator, she called Owletuck and told him she was "furious" and "totally offended."

"None of the messages produced by Owletuck (and nothing he shared with me) indicate that (the woman) sent any sexually explicit or suggestive messages to Owletuck or conveyed a desire by her for them to be together in the future," wrote the investigator, Renea Saade.

After Calista rejected the woman's sales pitch, she arranged her phone call with Guy, the chief executive. The details of that phone call, and Guy's response, are disputed.

The woman told Calista's investigator that she told Guy she had received more than 1,100 text messages and a "box of panties from Victoria's Secret" from Owletuck. She said she also told Guy that she was "totally offended" by Owletuck's "sexual conduct," and that "this guy scared me."

Guy said he remembers the phone call differently. He told the investigator that the woman only reported receiving the text messages as part of an effort by Owletuck to get the woman to mentor his daughter.

Guy's handwritten notes of the call, included in court records, contain a reference to 1,142 contacts from Owletuck that came "every day and night." They also say he "stopped by her house uninvited" and that she had a "terrible experience" with him. But they don't include any reference to the alleged sexual harassment by Owletuck.

"She never mentioned anything about Victoria's Secret lingerie or anything of a sexual nature," Guy said in the interview.

The woman, according to court documents filed by Calista, said she did not want to get Owletuck into trouble, but also didn't want to work with him anymore.

After the call, Guy assigned a different Calista employee, Jim St. George, to work with the woman on her business pitch. But Guy did not formally report Owletuck to the company's human resources department.

"To me, there was nothing that warranted an investigation," Guy said.

Calista began investigating the allegations of sexual harassment more than a month later, after the woman reported the details to St. George. Owletuck was fired in November, a day after the completion of the company's internal investigation.

Don, who was then chair of Calista's board, learned about the woman's allegations and looked into them, ultimately convening a meeting with company employees and Saade, the investigator. He then called a special board of directors meeting and talked with Guy separately to warn him not to retaliate against Calista employees.

But when the board gathered, in December, members adjourned the meeting without any discussion.

Kasayulie, one of the board members, said in a sworn statement that he saw the meeting as a likely "plot to oust President Guy." He said he and five others on the 11-member board had met beforehand at an Anchorage restaurant and agreed to stop Don's attempted "coup."

Then, the corporate governance committee chaired by Kasayulie hired a law firm, Holland and Knight, to do an independent investigation into Don's actions. The full board also voted to suspend Don from his chairmanship.

The Holland and Knight investigation found that "Calista's management, including Andrew Guy, took immediate and appropriate steps to respond to and address information they received about Owletuck's misconduct."

Guy's supporters also point out that Owletuck stopped contacting the woman after her phone call with Guy, according to Calista's internal investigation. And they note that the second employee that Guy assigned to work with the woman did report the allegations of sexual harassment.

"The system worked, fully," said Featherly, the attorney, who works at Holland and Knight.

After reviewing the Holland and Knight investigation, the corporate governance committee ruled that Don, by unilaterally meeting with and directing Calista employees, had crossed the "boundary of the board's role in employment matters," by injecting himself into an ongoing personnel issue.

"The board does not get involved in Andrew's responsibilities and manage his staff," Kasayulie said in the interview. Calista officials said the corporation's code of conduct places clear limits on individual board members' authority, which arose from past, acrimonious conflicts between the board and company executives.

The board asked Don to resign. When he refused, it publicly censured him.

Don has defended his actions in op-eds and interviews with KYUK, the public radio station.

In his court filings, his attorneys note that it was Don's job as board chairman to accept complaints about misconduct that involved Guy.

"Don had a responsibility to act, and that is what he did (or at least attempted to do)," Don's attorneys wrote in his initial response to the lawsuit. "Don was and is seeking simply to protect Calista by addressing the serious moral, legal and leadership failures that were brought to his attention."

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