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Rocky Boy Health Center Faces Lawsuit, CEO Replacement

June 27 story update: Chippewa Cree tribal chair Harlan Baker returned requests for comment after the story published and said Jessica Windy Boy’s departure is a suspension. He said he couldn’t comment on the matter any further due to personnel laws.

Regarding the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Great Falls against Windy boy and the tribe, Baker said he had no comment because no tribal official has been served with a notice regarding a lawsuit.

The hiccups for the Rocky Boy Health Center continue.

The newest challenge is a lawsuit filed Thursday against its CEO, Jessica Windy Boy, and against the health center and Chippewa Cree Tribe as a whole by a former employee.

Also, on Wednesday, health center staff members received a memo announcing that Windy Boy had been replaced by two acting CEOs, Tessie Lamere and Jewel Whitford, until further notice.

The Herald has been unable to find out if the lawsuit is related to Windy Boy’s replacement and whether her replacement is temporary or permanent. Chippewa Cree tribal chair Harlan Baker and Rocky Boy Health Center Board Chair Rick Morsette did not reply to multiple requests for comment.

A complaint filed in federal court on Thursday says that Windy Boy, the health center and the tribe are being sued for retaliation, bullying, intimidation and harassment.

The plaintiff, Ronald J. Walker, who is representing himself, claims Windy Boy discriminated against him between Feb. 6 and 8 while he worked at the health center.

Jessica Windy Boy (Herald file photo)

Walker is suing for $140,000 in lost salary, as well as punitive and exemplary damages. He claims Windy Boy has denied him the opportunity of gainful employment because of retaliatory actions toward him. His claim to a punitive award is based on “mental suffering, wounded dignity, and injured feelings for egregious misconduct by the establishment.”

Walker had also filed a complaint in this matter with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on the basis of gender discrimination and retaliation. His complaint was dismissed shortly afterward. The reason listed is “other-tribal entity.”

Walker wrote a10-page letter on Feb. 9 to Chippewa Cree Tribal Chair Harlan Baker in which he says, among many things, that he was forced to resign as the project coordinator of the Zero-Suicide Program, a grant program.

In the letter, Walker says he held the position for less than two months before resigning because of “outright harassment, admonishment and humiliation” by Windy Boy. Walker says he was provoked, criticized and humiliated during a meeting. He accuses Windy Boy of trying to provoke him in front of three women because today’s climate of “Me Too” would make it easy to accuse him of doing something.

He says she kept complaining, and when he tried to respond Windy Boy told him to shut up. Windy Boy also sent him home “because I was tired of her inferences and onslaught of disparagement.”

Walker is a former Department of Interior-Bureau of Indian Affairs employee. In the suit, he says the Zero-Suicide Program was about 15 months behind schedule and had been abused and mismanaged by health center leaders.

Again, despite multiple phone calls and messages, the Herald was unable to get any comment from the health center chair or the tribal chair about the lawsuit or allegations made by Walker.

Walker’s lawsuit and a shuffling of leadership aren’t the only problems the health center is dealing with.

In February, the Herald reported on a HIPAA breach at the facility after the health center emailed a notice about it. Then-CEO Windy Boy indicated the advertisement/notice about the breach was sent to the wrong news organization and was sent for the purpose of getting a quote on a classified advertisement. She refused to comment on the breach and indicated that the health center would not do future business with the Herald because of the story.

The breach occurred on Feb. 21 and was caused by theft, the precise nature of which still has not been revealed, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights. The link indicates the theft remains under investigation. A spokesperson for the Office of Civil Rights had said they don’t comment on open investigations.

On June 15, the health center marked the one-year anniversary of its new clinic, which put the entire department under one roof. Before that, departments had been spread out in various places throughout the reservation. Now the 90,000-square-foot building houses all of the clinic departments —  the diabetic center, the White Sky Hope substance abuse center, the finance department, the environmental health program, the Women, Infants and Children program and the emergency program.

Windy Boy took over the CEO post in 2016 and guided the organization through problems that had plagued the health center’s construction.

This story has been updated.

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Email Paul Dragu at (406) 262-7778
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