PHOENIX -- On Jan. 31, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced today that it can proceed with its lawsuit against Peabody Coal since the U.S. Supreme Court has refused to hear Peabody Coal's appeal of the Ninth Circuit decision, which permitted the EEOC to sue Peabody Coal.
The EEOC filed its original lawsuit on June 13, 2001, EEOC v. Peabody Coal Company, CV-01-01050-MHM, filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. No discovery has been conducted in this case.
Instead, Peabody Coal has filed several motions to dismiss the case. The EEOC successfully appealed the district court's dismissal. EEOC v. Peabody Western Coal Company, 400 F.3d 774 (9th Cir. 2005). This decision granted authority to the EEOC to proceed with the lawsuit, reversing the district court's prior decision to dismiss the case against Peabody Coal. By refusing to hear Peabody Coal's appeal of the Ninth Circuit decision, the Supreme Court lets stand the ruling by the Ninth Circuit. Therefore, the EEOC can proceed with its lawsuit against Peabody Coal on the merits of the case.
The lawsuit alleges that Peabody Coal refused to hire non-Navajo Native Americans at its Kayenta and Black Mesa coalmines, located on land owned by the Navajo Nation and Hopi Tribe in northern Arizona. The suit also claims that Peabody Coal failed to retain employment applications, as required by federal law.
The EEOC specifically alleges that Peabody Coal, which operates a coal mining business and employs more than 700 employees, 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 because they are not members of the Navajo Nation, even though they were qualified for the positions.
Chester V. Bailey, District Director of the EEOC's Phoenix District Office, said, "The EEOC has issued guidance on this matter. Indian preference for employers on or near an Indian country is legal under Title VII, but tribal preference is not legal under Title VII."
Mary Jo O'Neill, Regional Attorney at the EEOC's Phoenix District Office, said, "The Supreme Court's refusal to hear Peabody Coal's appeal sends a clear message that the Ninth Circuit's decision stands. The EEOC looks forward to finally litigating this case on the merits; national origin discrimination and race discrimination is illegal."
The EEOC's suit seeks monetary relief against Peabody Coal, including back pay with prejudgment interest, compensatory and punitive damages. The Commission is also seeking an injunction prohibiting future discrimination by Peabody Coal, and any other curative relief to prevent Peabody Coal from engaging in any further discriminatory practices.
In addition to enforcing Title VII, the EEOC enforces the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, which protects workers age 40 and older from discrimination based on age; the Equal Pay Act of 1963, which prohibits gender-based wage discrimination; the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits employment discrimination against people with disabilities in the federal sector; Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 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 web site at www.eeoc.gov.