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Appeals court rules tribes not subject to age discrimination laws

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SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. -- The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had ruled that federal age discrimination laws do not apply to American Indian tribes.

Aug. 13, the court found the tribal right to self-government precludes a federal civil rights agency from investigating a tribal employee's complaint against the Karuk tribe in Northern California.

In 1997, tribal member Robert Grant was fired from his position as a maintenance supervisor in the tribe's Housing Authority. He was 53 at the time and after fruitless appeals to the Karuk Tribal Council he went the federal Equal Opportunity Commission.

When the tribe refused to cooperate, Grant launched a lawsuit in federal district court citing the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

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U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney ruled in favor of the Equal Opportunity Commission. The tribe argued that as a sovereign government they were exempt from federal law.

The Age Discrimination in Employment Act prohibits age discrimination for anyone over the age of 40 and Grant felt that his firing was age related.

The tribe appealed the decision and a three-judge appellate panel reversed the decision and ruled in favor of the tribes.

"Thus the EEOC is without regulatory jurisdiction over the tribe with respect to the ADEA (Age Discrimination in Employment Act), and the district court should not have enforced the subpoena," Judge Margaret McKeown concluded in her opinion.