Immunity for Racist American Indian Corporations? July 18, 2006Posted by C.A.R.D in American Indian, Card, Christopher Wright, Citizens Against Racism and Discrimination, Colville, Colville tribal casinos, Construction, Corporations, Discrimination, Indian, Race, Racism, Racist, tribal court, tribal law, Tribe, White.
A white construction worker is suing two Colville tribal corporations, contending that racial slurs by American Indian co-workers caused him to quit his job.
Tribal attorneys say that Christopher Wright’s employer, as a tribal entity, is entitled to sovereign immunity and cannot be sued in state court.
Arguments in the case were heard Tuesday before the state Supreme Court in Olympia. It is the first time in more than 25 years that the high court has heard a tribal sovereign immunity case. A ruling is likely months away.
Wright’s case hinges on convincing justices that tribes’ immunity unfairly shields tribal for-profit corporations doing off-reservation work.
They “can be just running around the state and just not following the law,” said Wright’s attorney, Breean Beggs. “They can be polluting, they can be manufacturing products that are dangerous, and you can’t do anything about it, under their theory.”
Tribal attorneys insist that the Colville corporations are immune to state suits.
Tribal attorney Michael Griffin told the high court that Wright is welcome to file his case in tribal court in Nespelem.
“The tribal court is wide open to litigants like Mr. Wright,” said Griffin, a lawyer for the Colville Tribal Enterprise Corp. “If Mr. Wright invokes the jurisdiction of the tribal court, he will be heard.”
Beggs said Colville tribal law is unclear about whether a non-Indian can sue the tribe in such a case.
Wright, a pipe layer, took a construction job in Oak Harbor in 2002 replacing a water system at Navy housing on Whidbey Island. His employer was the Colville Tribal Services Corp.
The company is one of 14 business enterprises run by the Colville Tribal Enterprise Corp.
Wright contended that one co-worker “constantly spat on me when I was working in the ditch below him and shouted things at me like ‘You’re my white bitch.'”