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Discrimination Law Covers Tribes

September 15, 1998

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ A federal appeals court, ruling in favor of a Hopi Indian who claimed he was denied a job because he was not a Navajo, said Indian tribes cannot discriminate against one another in contracts with private employers.

Federal law bans discrimination based on national origin, and individual tribes are viewed historically as nations, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said Monday in a 3-0 ruling that overturned a lower court’s decision.

Indians are legally given preferences for jobs on or near reservations, but not for one tribe over another.

The law was intended to ``compensate for the effects of past and present unjust treatment, not ... to authorize another form of discrimination against particular groups of Indians,″ Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote.

The discrimination suit was brought by a Hopi, Harold Dawavendewa, who said he scored in the top half of 20 applicants for a job at a power plant on the Navajo Reservation in northeast Arizona.

The plant’s operator, the Salt River Project, was required by its lease with the Navajo Nation to hire Navajos before anyone else could be considered for a job, and Dawavendewa did not get hired.

John Egbert, lawyer for the Salt River Project, declined to comment, saying he had not seen the ruling. The Navajo Nation was not sued because it is immune from suit under federal employment discrimination law.

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