Arizona supermarket chain committed national origin discrimination, EEOC charges in lawsuit

Suit says Bashas' shunned hiring non-Navajo natives

PHOENIX -- A major supermarket chain that operates several stores on Navajo land engaged in national origin discrimination against non-Navajo Native Americans, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit it filed on Aug. 22.

The EEOC's lawsuit, Case No. 05-CV-2382 PHX SMM, filed in U.S. District Court for theDistrict of Arizona, alleges that Bashas' Inc. refused to hire non-Navajo Native Americans at its supermarket located on land owned by the Navajo Nation in Tuba City. Specifically, the EEOC alleges that Bashas' refused to hire Dale Lucero and Randy Honahni, who are both members of the Hopi Tribe, and a class of similarly situated Native Americans because they are not members of the Navajo Nation, even though they were qualified for the positions. The suit also claims that Bashas' failed to retain employment applications, as required by federal law.

Such alleged conduct violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex (including sexual harassment or pregnancy) or national origin and protects employees who complain about such offenses from retaliation.

The EEOC filed suit after exhausting its efforts to reach a voluntary pre-litigation settlement.

The EEOC's lawsuit also names the Navajo Nation as a Rule 19 defendant -- a defendant that is not subject to liability or relief -- because it has an interest in the subject of the action. Since the Navajo Nation is a party to a lease agreement with Bashas,' it has such an interest in this case.

Chester V. Bailey, District Director of the EEOC's Phoenix District Office, said, "All American employers, including those conducting business on or near an Indian reservation, must abide by federal civil rights law."

Mary Jo O'Neill, Regional Attorney at the EEOC's Phoenix District Office, added, "Under Title VII, private employers conducting business on or near a reservation may have an Indian preference clause in their hiring practices -- but that law does not permit tribal preferences."

The EEOC's suit seeks monetary relief against Bashas,' including back pay with prejudgment interest, and compensatory and punitive damages. The Commission is also seeking an injunction prohibiting future discrimination by Bashas,' and any other relief to prevent Bashas' from engaging in any further discriminatory practices.

Chandler based Bashas' owns and operates more than 150 supermarkets throughout Arizona and has more than 10,500 employees.

In addition to enforcing Title VII, the EEOC enforces the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), which protects workers age 40 and older from discrimination based on age; the Equal Pay Act, which prohibits gender-based wage discrimination; the Rehabilitation Act, which prohibits employment discrimination against people with disabilities in the federal sector; Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which prohibits employment discrimination against people with disabilities in the private sector and state and local governments; and sections of the Civil Rights Act of 1991.

Further information about the Commission is available on the agency's website at www.eeoc.gov.

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