A class lawsuit against Peabody Coal has been filed by The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in Phoenix. The suit alleges widespread national origin discrimination against non-Navajo Native Americans by refusing to hire them at its Kayenta and Black Mesa coal mining operations.
Peabody is the largest private-sector coal company hit with a lawsuit alleging this type of discrimination.
The suit also alleges that Peabody Coal, based in St. Louis, Missouri, has refused to hire qualified Hopi, Otoe and other Native Americans at its Black Mesa and Kayenta coal mining operations. Peabody operates these mines through lease agreements with the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe.
Peabody Coal’s company web site states it employees some 700 Native Americans in its Southwestern mining operations, but doesn’t offer a breakdown of those 700 Native Americans tribal connections or origins. However, they do state the average miner’s salary is eight times higher than the per capita income for the Navajo Nation.
Peabody’s coal mines are located on land owned by the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe in northern Arizona. Peabody’s website also points out that 40% of the Navajo Nation’s budget and 80% of the Hopi Tribes budget comes from Peabody contracts. It mentions that an additional 45 million dollars will go to the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe over the next ten years due to a renegotiated contract in 1998.
The discrimination lawsuit, also claims that Peabody Coal failed to retain employment applications, as required by federal law.
The EEOC alleges that Peabody Coal, refused to hire Delbert Mariano and Thomas Sahu, who are both members of the Hopi Tribe, Robert Koshiway, a member of the Otoe Tribe, and a class of other Native Americans.
They were allegedly not hired because they are not members of the Navajo Nation, even though they were qualified for the positions.
According to EEOC Acting Regional Attorney C. Emanuel Smith, “The case against Peabody Coal should send a strong message to employers on or near Indian reservations that preferring members of one tribe to the exclusion of members of other tribes is national origin discrimination and is unlawful and, when discovered, will be aggressively prosecuted by the Commission.”
In addition to seeking monetary relief for the aggrieved individual, which includes back pay and compensatory and punitive damages—the suit seeks a court order preventing Peabody Coal from engaging in this kind of discrimination based on “national origin” in the future.
Charles Burtner, Director of the EEOC’s Phoenix office, said, “In addition to seeking reasonable relief for the charging parties, this case will help to promote the understanding and awareness of workers’ rights under the anti-discrimination laws, especially among the large Native American community in Southwest, as well as employers throughout the district.” The Phoenix office has jurisdiction for Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah.
Peabody’s web site is; www.peabodyengergy.com. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission website is: http://www.eeoc.gov
Peabody Coal released a statement late last Friday stating in part:
“We are surprised that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) would challenge our hiring practices at our Arizona Operations. Peabody is also disappointed that the EEOC has made no attempt to contact us regarding the contract terms relating to Navajo Nation hiring preferences. Our leases, which include Native American hiring practices, have been in place for more than 30 years and were approved by the U. S. government, the Navajo Nation and the Hopi Tribe. Most of the hiring at these mines occurred in the late 1960s and early 1970s. When these facts are reviewed, we are confident that our hiring practices will be found in compliance with applicable laws.”
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