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Colvilles ordered to settle ex-workers’ suit

Judge says fired employees’ rights were violated

A Colville tribal judge has ordered the Tribal Business Council to settle a lawsuit with five former employees who lost their jobs amid severe budget cuts last fall.

Chief Judge Steven D. Aycock ruled that the employees’ due process rights were violated by the government of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, which has refused to implement the orders of administrative law judges to reinstate the employees and award them back pay from the date of their termination.

The employees’ right to appeal their termination before an administrative law judge is set forth by tribal policy, and Aycock ruled the tribal court has no authority to overrule the results of such an appeal.

But because the employees’ jobs no longer exist and there is no money in the tribes’ budget to pay back wages, Aycock ordered both sides in the dispute to file a recommendation as to appropriate relief by the end of the month.

A tribal attorney said the council has the authority to pass a budget reflecting the tribes’ financial situation and make reductions in force that reflect declining resources.

“The tribe is disappointed by the decision by the administrative law judge and disagrees with it,” attorney Tom Christie said. “At this point, we are still considering our options with respect to Aycock’s ruling.”

A spokesman for the fired employees also questioned the legality of a negotiated settlement.

“If the (administrative law judge’s) decision is final and the tribal court has no jurisdiction to change the ruling, then why did Aycock give the tribes 60 days to come up with a settlement as close to the ALJ decision as possible?” said John Sirois, who was fired as the tribes’ cultural preservation administrator. “It should just stand as is, right?”

The other tribal members who lost their jobs Nov. 2 and who have standing in the lawsuit are Gary Joseph, who was tribal operations manager; Nikki Dick, purchasing manager; Kyle Desautel, economic planner; and Carla Marconi, who worked for the planning division.

Aycock dismissed two other fired division directors from the lawsuit: human services administrator Martha Holliday, because she was a contract employee, and employment director Charlanne Quinto, because she did not file an appeal with the administrative law judge, Sirois said.

The firings were the result of the tribal council, with only nine of its 14 members present, declaring a financial emergency and approving a 2008 budget of $24.9 million, a 22 percent decrease from the year before.

The administrative law judge in Sirois’ and some of the others’ cases was Maureen J. Rosette, of Spokane. She ruled that the tribal government and its interim executive director, Carleen Anderson, failed to show that the terminations were necessary and failed to make the division directors part of the budget process.

The employees also claimed that following their terminations, the tribe hired new employees without giving them the opportunity to apply for the new positions as required by the employee policy manual.

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