November 13, 2011

Investigation Request Details Complaint

The ousted executive secretary of the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs (CCIA) is requesting federal and state civil and criminal investigations into her recent termination by a staff member in the office of the state’s lieutenant governor, Joseph Garcia, who serves as CCIA chairman.

Carol Harvey, Dine’/Hispanic, said the requests were sent November 10 to the CCIA, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education (DOE), Urban Indian Health Institute and the staffs of U.S. Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both of Colorado.

Harvey, who was CCIA executive secretary nearly two years, said she was terminated without any forewarning by Andrew Freedman, Garcia’s chief of staff, who, along with the lieutenant governor, has been unavailable for comment.

She charges the Colorado Sunshine Law was violated when the decision to terminate her employment was not made by the CCIA in a public meeting. She also contends the state’s Administrative Procedure Act was violated because she was employed by the CCIA, not Freedman, and the state erred when it allowed Freedman alone “to terminate (her) without cause, other than I ‘was not a fit.’”

Colorado’s at-will employment law—which, in broad terms, means an employer does not need good cause to fire an employee—does not apply in her case, because “ratification for employment of the executive secretary by a majority of the CCIA constitutes an implied contract of employment until proper procedural action by the CCIA to the contrary.”

In addition, because tribes are nations, intertribal discrimination on the basis of national origin can violate Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, she said, asserting the lieutenant governor had told her that although “the Ute Tribes wanted a Ute person in (her) position, he did not think anyone was qualified.” She noted her many visits to the two Ute reservations and her “high esteem for the sovereign Ute Tribes of Colorado.”

Apart from issues related directly to her termination, Harvey requested an audit of the HHS Office of the Inspector General over

possible irregularities in the Indian share of federal grants to Colorado and she charged the state failed to consult with tribes on Medicaid amendments.

She also said an investigation should be conducted by the Colorado DOE and civil rights officials concerning the civil rights of minority students, whose “drop-out rates, low academic performance and disciplinary issues” call for action. The state’s compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act is also low—estimated at 37 percent, a figure she said she had not confirmed but that had been provided by the Denver Indian Family Resource Center.

The CCIA director acts as liaison between the state and the state’s two tribal nations, the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute  tribes of southwestern Colorado, and off-reservation American Indians, including the urban Indian population located primarily in the Denver metro area and along the Front Range of the Rocky Mountains.

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March 6, 2012

BIE School Being Sued for Discrimination Against Pregnant Teen

After being kicked out of school and publicly humiliated for being pregnant, 15-year-old Shantelle Hicks now has the American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU New Mexico on her side.

The groups filed a lawsuit against the school today alleging that school administrators violated Shantelle’s constitutional right to equal protection under the law, Title IX’s prohibitions against sex and pregnancy discrimination and violations of her right to privacy.

After disclosing to school officials that she was pregnant in October 2011, Shantelle was told she could no longer attend Wingate Elementary School, a Bureau of Indian Education-operated boarding school for Native American students in Ft. Wingate, New Mexico.

According to the complaint, officials told the eighth-grader she could no longer stay in the school’s dormitories because her pregnancy would set a bad example for the other students.

After Shantelle’s mother, Vicky Hicks, contacted ACLU of New Mexico and the group sent a letter to the school on October 17 asking that Shantelle be allowed to come back, the school agreed. Shantelle had missed four days of instruction.

About 10 days later—on or about October 27 according to the filed complaint—an all school assembly was called. During the assembly, Shantelle’s pregnancy was announced by the school’s director, Christine Edsitty-Beach, and a school counselor, Sadie Martinez. Shantelle’s pregnancy was not common knowledge and she was not showing at the time.

“It was so embarrassing to have all the other kids staring at me as I walked into the gymnasium,” said Hicks in an ACLU statement. “I didn’t want the whole school to know I was pregnant because it’s not their business, and it wasn’t right for my teachers to single me out.”

The ACLU of New Mexico believes the school officials embarrassed Shantelle in retaliation for refusing to leave Wingate.

“It is outrageous that educators would subject a young woman in their care to such cruelty,” said ACLU of New Mexico cooperating attorney Barry Klopfer, in the statement.

“Too often, pregnant students face significant barriers or outright discrimination in school,” said Galen Sherwin, staff attorney with the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, in the statement. “Instead, schools should give pregnant and parenting students the support they need to help them succeed, for both themselves and for their children.”

In a blog on The Washington Post website, Valerie Strauss calls the actions of Wingate teachers no more than bullying. “Outing a teenager as pregnant is nothing more than bullying, but when an adult does it, it sends a message that such behavior is acceptable,” she says in the blog. “Whatever one thinks about the pregnancy of an eighth-grader, there’s no way to condone a school leader humiliating her in front of her peers.”

The lawsuit is seeking compensatory and punitive damages, but no amount is specified in the complaint. The lawsuit also asks that defendants Edsitty-Beach and Martinez be required to attend gender and pregnancy discrimination training and that the school offer training to employees.

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September 6, 2012

Video: Heart of SB 1070 Passes

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer applauded a federal judge’s ruling on September 3 that the most controversial part of Arizona’s immigration law can be implemented. The ruling will require police to inquire about the immigration status of anyone who is suspected of being in the country illegally and who has been stopped in the course of law enforcement’s daily work. Opponents of the law say it will encourage racial profiling. They argue that citizens who appear to be an immigrant, including Native Americans and legal Hispanics, could end up being hassled by police and required to carry around proof of residency. Brewer says the law will be implemented carefully and with respect to civil rights. Monday’s ruling lays the groundwork for a flurry of future legal challenges. Critics say they will be watching police and bringing any cases of racial profiling to a judge.

Click here to view the embedded video.

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