A federal judge has dismissed a former employee’s lawsuit against the Rocky Boy Health Center, its former CEO Jessica Windy Boy and the Chippewa Cree Tribe.
Judge John Johnston dismissed Ronald Walker’s lawsuit Nov. 4 because Walker didn’t take his complaint through tribal court. The suit was dismissed without prejudice. He can refile the complaint after he “exhausts his remedies with the Chippewa Cree Tribal Court,” the judge said in his decision.
Walker said he plans to refile in tribal court.
Walker filed his lawsuit in federal court in June. He was suing on claims of retaliation, bullying, intimidation, gender discrimination and harassment by then-CEO Windy Boy. She has since been fired and the health center is operating with an interim CEO.
In his lawsuit, Walker sought $140,000 in lost salary, as well as punitive and exemplary damages. He was claiming a punitive award based on “mental suffering, wounded dignity, and injured feelings for egregious misconduct by the establishment.” He was representing himself.
The Chippewa Cree Tribe contested the lawsuit, saying it should be thrown out because the U.S. District Court had no jurisdiction in the matter. Walker did not first seek the proper tribal remedies, the tribe said, and the federal laws he used as the foundation for a lawsuit were not applicable.
Although the judge agreed with the tribe, Walker doesn’t see the decision as a total defeat.
“I feel like I won half the battle,” Walker told the Herald Monday, adding the judge must’ve seen some merit in the case because he’s allowing the possibility to refile.
He plans to refile the lawsuit in tribal court against all three, even though Windy Boy is no longer CEO. He’s just not sure when, he added, perhaps in early 2020.
Walker claims he tried mediation, but it never happened.
He also took the matter to Chippewa Cree Tribal Chairman Harlan Baker right after he resigned. In a 10-page letter to Baker dated Feb. 9, which was filed with the lawsuit, Walker said he was forced to resign his position “due to outright harassment, admonishment and humiliation by one Jessica Windy Boy, CEO ….” In the letter, Walker detailed a moment during which he felt he was provoked by Windy Boy and had no choice but to resign.
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Windy Boy was fired in August, months after Walker’s lawsuit. Tribal authorities would not say why she was fired, citing personnel rules. Health Center Chair Rick Morsette did not return a request for comment on the current CEO status. The health center’s website still lists Windy Boy as the CEO.
Walker has also defended in court filings why he didn’t exhaust all tribal remedies:
“The nepotism factor at this facility did not provide Plaintiff a technical process or legal means in which to address his grievance,” he said in the filing, echoing a statement he gave to the Herald over the phone.
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.
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Email Paul Dragu at firstname.lastname@example.org