Can an American citizen sue a company owned by Native Americans for harassment and racism?

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Can an American citizen sue a company owned by Native Americans for harassment and racism?

A friend is suffering at their place of work under the employment. The racism issue is that because this friend is white, and not native, people not connected to the job raised a big fuss and are demanding that they re-open the postings and hire a native. It’s going political and my friend may lose their job simply so a native can be placed in their position. It’s well documented that there is a “native preference” with this business. It’s completely asinine. Also, they are suffering from rather horrific harassment, libel and slander. Can you sue natives on their reservation?

Asked on April 3, 2011 under Personal Injury, New York

Answers:

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 10 years ago | Contributor

Your friend may be able to sue, but he's going to have to bring the action in tribal court IF the place of employment is itself on the reservation (for example, a tribal casino). Because the tribes are semi-autonomous governments, state courts have no jurisiction over them and federal courts only have limited jurisdiction.

If the employer is not on the reservation, however, then if owned by a native american, your friend should be able to bring a legal action in state court.

Because the interaction of federal vs. tribal law and federal vs. tribal jurisdiction is complicated, your friend should retain an attorney with some experience in this field. If he has trouble finding one, try contacting a lawyer he does gaming or gambling law for the tribes--even if that lawyer cannot or will not him- or herself help, the attorney may be able to recommend a colleague.


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