DETROIT LAKES -- A district judge this month denied a request to dismiss a sexual harassment lawsuit against the environmental organization Honor the Earth, claiming that the state has sufficient jurisdiction to hear the case even though it has ties to a tribal nation.
The judge, Gretchen Thilmony, issued a memorandum on her decision July 2. A former employee of the organization, Margaret Campbell, filed the lawsuit in February in Becker County, arguing that another employee repeatedly harassed her and that the organization brushed aside her complaints.
Honor the Earth is one of the leading opponents to the Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project that would run through north-central Minnesota to Wisconsin.
“Minnesota has a very strong interest in evaluating this claim. A citizen of Minnesota is asserting a violation of the Minnesota Human Rights Act, which would constitute a violation of her civil rights under Minnesota law,” Thilmony wrote in her memo.
Frank Bibeau, the attorney for Honor the Earth, moved to dismiss the case once it was filed, arguing the state doesn't have jurisdiction in the matter since Honor the Earth is operated by a White Earth tribal member and since the alleged events referred to in the lawsuit “primarily occurred” within White Earth Nation.
Much of the debate hinged on something referred to as Public Law 280, which grants the state some legal jurisdiction in tribal lands. Bibeau argued that Public Law 280 doesn't allow the state to oversee the lawsuit against Honor the Earth, since it is civil in nature and not a criminal case.
Thilmony, however, said Public Law 280 doesn’t apply to the situation at all since “Neither party is a registered member or a registered corporation of any tribe.” She then expounded on that, explaining that Honor the Earth is organized through the state of Minnesota rather than through White Earth Nation.
Similarly, the judge noted the fact that Honor the Earth also operates outside of White Earth Nation.
Thilmony said “a Minnesota citizen is suing a Minnesota corporation under a Minnesota law.”
Thilmony reiterated the state’s jurisdiction over the matter, explaining that Public Law 280 would still grant the state the right to oversee the case even if the law was applicable to the situation.
“Public Law 280 does not apply to the present case. Even if it did, the Minnesota Human Rights Act is a criminal law that prohibits discrimination and thus applies to tribal entities in Minnesota,” Thilmony wrote in the memo.