Ronald Walker worked for the Rocky Boy Health Center for a short time before he quit and filed a lawsuit against the center, its CEO and the tribe.
He is suing on claims of retaliation, bullying, intimidation, gender discrimination and harassment by CEO Jessica Windy Boy. He wants $140,000 in lost salary, as well as punitive and exemplary damages. He is claiming a punitive award based on “mental suffering, wounded dignity, and injured feelings for egregious misconduct by the establishment.” He is representing himself.
The Chippewa Cree Tribe responded to the lawsuit last week, asking that it be thrown out, contending U.S. District Court has no jurisdiction in the matter. Walker did not first seek the proper tribal remedies, the tribe said, and the federal laws he uses as the foundation for a lawsuit are not applicable.
Walker also filed with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on the basis of gender discrimination and retaliation. That complaint has already been dismissed; the reason for dismissal is listed as ‘Tribal Entity.’ Representatives for the EEOC did not reply to multiple requests for elaboration.
The Rocky Boy Health Center was created and is owned and operated by the tribe. It is an arm of the Rocky Boy’s Indian Reservation government.
This is not the first time Walker, 66 and a member of the Fort Belknap Tribe, has sued someone connected to a governmental entity. Nor is it the first time he’s done so claiming discrimination.
In 2014, he sued then-secretary of the Interior, his former employer, Sally Jewell, for $300,000. In that case, he sued on the basis of retaliation, reprisal, and age and disability discrimination. That case was dismissed six months after being filed.
In his recent complaint, Walker contends that Windy Boy bullied him.
“I resigned due to outright harassment, admonishment and humiliation by one Jessica Windy Boy, CEO Rocky Boy Health Clinic, on Friday, February 8, 2019,” he says.
In its reply, the tribe says in a footnote that there is no Rocky Boy Health Clinic. “The Center is unaware of any entity operating under the name ‘Rocky Boy Health Clinic.'”
Windy Boy, who was suspended for a brief period in June, has returned to work since. Tribal Chair Harlan Baker told the Herald in June that personnel regulations prohibited him from saying why Windy Boy was suspended and whether it had anything to do with the lawsuit.
Muddled among the charges in Walker’s complaint was the allegation that by the time he came on as project coordinator for the Zero-Suicide Program, the grant program was about 15 months behind schedule and had been abused and mismanaged by health center leaders.
“The objectives of the Zero-Suicide Program are not being met,” he wrote to Baker in a letter.
Walker was hired in October 2018 as a temporary caseworker and on Jan. 28 briefly accepted the project coordinator position, resigning on Feb. 8.
The meeting that prompted him to quit was supposed to be about the Zero-Suicide Program.
“She kept telling me to shut up,” Walker writes of the meeting. “I walked out of that room very humiliated to say the least. This has never happened to me before. I am a thick-skinned individual. She was like the head snake of a viper pit.”
Baker has not responded to multiple requests from the Herald for comment about the suicide grant program or the lawsuit.
The tribe, represented by Evan M.T. Thompson and Michael L. Rausch, of Helena, listed several reasons the case should be thrown out. Some of them include:
The U.S. District Court in which Walker filed his lawsuit has no jurisdiction in the matter.
“Tribes have power to make their own substantive law in internal matters, and to enforce that law in their own forums,” the tribe contends. “The dispute is based on personnel management and therefore exclusively the jurisdiction of tribal court and tribal court. … Jurisdiction over Indians is first and foremost a matter of internal tribal law.”
Also, by entering an employment relationship with the Center, Walker entered a consensual relationship with the tribe, to work for the tribe, to be paid by the tribe, and any dispute is to remain within the bounds of the tribe. “Under the first Montana exception, the Tribe plainly has exclusive civil jurisdiction to decide Plaintiff’s claims, which arise from of his tribal employment.”
The tribe also says that the laws Walker cites as the basis for his lawsuit do not apply.
Walker says he was discriminated and retaliated against because he’s a man and claimed relief under three separate federal laws: the Civil Rights Act of 1964; Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990; and the Rehabilitation Act. Those laws, the tribe says, do not apply to the tribe “and/or are limited in scope to disability discrimination, as opposed to gender discrimination.”
While Walker checked a box to indicate he was discriminated against because he is male, he doesn’t cite any facts to support the allegation for gender discrimination, the tribe says. Also, the tribe adds, Walker never told the center he was disabled, nor does he claim to be disabled.
He should’ve gone through the proper channels, the tribe contends.
The Chippewa Cree Tribe has a tribal court and appellate court with established law and that’s where Walker should have gone. He“failed to avail himself” of the tribal court processes, the tribe contends.
“This matter is not only premature, it violates the U.S. Supreme Court’s common law requirement that Plaintiff first exhaust all tribal remedies, including appeal before the Tribal Appellate Court.”
Email Paul Dragu at email@example.com