The Forest County Potawatomi tribe will decide soon whether to turn over employment records to a federal agency investigating an age-discrimination claim. The case raises questions about the extent of tribal sovereignty.
Last year, a then- 59-year-old employee at the Potawatomi casino in Milwaukee alleged the tribe officials harassed him and subjected him to different employment conditions than the casino's younger workers. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) subpoenaed the tribe for information related to the allegations, but tribe officials refused to comply with the request.
Recently, federal district Judge Lynn Adelman ordered the tribe to comply with the EEOC's subpoena.
Commission attorney Dennis McBride said the federal age discrimination law doesn't have an exemption for tribes, and the worker in this case wasn't a tribal member. McBride also argued that the man worked at a commercial enterprise.
"Because it was a casino and not a tribal court or something like that, which is clearly governmental," McBride said.
Potawatomi officials said the tribe doesn't discriminate, and that various courts have reached different conclusions on whether the EEOC has jurisdiction to enforce the age discrimination law on tribal lands.
Tribal officials declined an interview in regards to this story.
But, Skip Durocher, a Minnesota attorney who often represents the tribes, agreed to comment. He said the Potawatomi argue the casino funds their sovereign government.
"That because the revenues from the casino are used for government purposes and to provide essential services to its members, that this causes this to fall within a purely intramural matter," he said.
The tribe has until the end of next week to appeal the district court ruling or turn over the employment records to EEOC officials.