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Tribal School Board wins Dismissal of Civil Rights Suit

17 Sep 21

By Peebles Kidder

Peebles Kidder attorneys Rebeca Kidder, Tim Hennessy, and Lisa Adams have won a decisive victory on behalf of the Marty Indian School Board, which was the target of a civil rights suit brought by its former school principal. 

The principal’s employment was terminated by the School Board.  The principal filed suit in federal court against the School Board alleging unlawful retaliation under Section 1981 of the Civil Rights Act, as well as asserting state law claims for wrongful termination and breach of an employment contract. 

In the face of the School Board’s motion to dismiss based on the lack of a waiver of tribal sovereign immunity from suit and failure to state a claim under Section 1981, the principal claimed that the lawsuit should go forward because the School Board was a nonprofit entity created under state law.  

U.S District Court Judge Roberto Lange disagreed, finding that the School Board was entitled to the protection of sovereign immunity as an arm of the Yankton Sioux Tribe of South Dakota.  In reaching this decision, the Court relied upon an earlier decision won by the firm in the Tenth Circuit. Judge Lange found that the School Board had not waived its sovereign immunity from suit.

In addition, the Court found that the Civil Rights Act did not apply to the School Board and that the principal was not engaged in protected activity.

Attorney Rebecca Kidder stated, “This decision by Judge Lange is a welcome reaffirmation of the longstanding federal court precedents concerning tribal schools.  This decision supports tribal self-determination and right of the Ihanktowan Nation (Yankton Sioux Tribe), and the Marty Indian School to provide education to Native American students in the Tribe’s homelands without interference from state or federal courts in the school’s employment decisions.”  

The case is Stathis v. Marty Indian School Board, Inc., case number 4:20-cv-04174, in the U.S. District Court for South Dakota.