Casino workers would work under tribal law
Click here to see the draft of the intergovernmental agreement between the city of Beloit, Rock County and the Ho-Chunk Nation Beloit City Manager Larry Arft said final details are being worked out, and he hopes each government body will vote on the agreement by the end of the month.
The Ho-Chunk Nation also has information about its proposal at goodforbeloit.org.
BELOIT Workers at a proposed Beloit casino would not be covered by state employment protections because of the Ho-Chunk Nation's sovereign immunity.
Instead, employment complaints would be handled through the nation's grievance review board.
Retired Walworth County resident Richard Wooley is concerned that the issue is not addressed in the intergovernmental agreement between the nation, the city of Beloit and Rock County. Wooley has researched casinos since opposing efforts in 1994 to locate a casino in Walworth County.
"I want everybody protected," he said.
The nation has given up its sovereign immunity on some issues such as city ordinances, but he said the agreement does not address employment rights.
"That's the biggie for me," he said.
Ho-Chunk Nation President Jon Greendeer said the nation "pretty much" has a system that mirrors state law, along with laws more specific to the tribal nation.
"If anything, we probably have a lot more supplemental rights for employees of our nation," he said.
Beloit City Manager Larry Arft said the issue was not addressed in negotiations for the intergovernmental agreement.
"They (Ho-Chunk) have facilities all over the state of Wisconsin," he said. "We've heard or read of no issues related to their employees or abuse of their employees in any way."
He noted that tribes are covered under most federal laws.
Tribes must abide by the federal Equal Pay Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, said Justine Lisser, a spokeswoman for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Court opinions have split on whether tribal businesses are exempt from Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, religion and national origin, she said. The Americans with Disabilities Act also is enforced by Title VII's structure. Tribal businesses, including one maintaining tribal property, probably would be considered exempt in any court under law and court rulings, Lisser said.
"We've heard of no indications anywhere that there's an abusive work environment in any way related not only to Ho-Chunk but other nation's tribal operations, as well," Arft said. "I think that falls into the category of coming up with something to articulate as a reason to oppose a project rather than a legitimate concern."
Wisconsin's Equal Rights Division does not have jurisdiction over Native American tribes, so the state is not able to enforce the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act and other workplace laws, such as requiring mass layoff notices or limiting the hours and days a minor can work, a state spokesman said.
"Native American tribes are immune from suit under the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act as they are sovereign nations," Department of Workforce Development spokesman John Dipko wrote in an email to The Gazette.
He said his agency has no direct knowledge of any Wisconsin tribe that has waived its sovereign immunity to allow suit under the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act.
The nation has about 3,380 employees who operate under laws set by the nation's legislative branch. Complaints are handled through the grievance review board, which is made up of fellow employees, Greendeer said. The process also has the ability to settle disputes through alternative methods such as mediation, he said.
Employees can appeal decisions to the nation's tribal court system. In the last four years, Greendeer said the court system was used less than a dozen times for employment-related cases.
He said the nation is responsible for following general federal employment law.
"We have every interest in developing laws that are linear to state laws," he said.
Wooley noted, however, that an employee at any other business in the area who has a problem with harassment, for example, could file a complaint with the state. He's read case law from casino workers whose complaints were "basically thrown out of court," he said.
Dipko and Wooley referenced two cases: Kocian v. Ho-Chunk Casino and Cichowski v. Ho-Chunk Hotel and Convention Center.
In the first case, the complainant filed with the state Equal Rights Division against the Ho-Chunk Nation casino alleging he had been discriminated against on the basis of his race.
The complaint was dismissed on the grounds that the state did not have jurisdiction over Indian tribes or business entities owned and operated by Indian tribes because of their sovereign status, according to the case. An appeal to an administrative law judge and a subsequent appeal affirmed the dismissal.
In the second case, the complainant filed a complaint with the Equal Rights Division alleging sexual harassment and retaliation by her supervisor and the Ho-Chunk Hotel and Convention Center. The state dismissed the complaint, citing the nation's sovereign immunity, and the complainant filed an appeal. An administrative law judge and a subsequent appeal affirmed the decision.