Native American Employee of the Department of Energy Sues Agency for Race/National Origin Discrimination and Retaliation

WASHINGTON, DCJody TallBear, a well-respected Native American employee of the Department of Energy, brought suit yesterday to challenge retaliation she experienced when she sought to address a work environment hostile to Native Americans. The lawsuit was filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and raises claims of race and national origin discrimination, a hostile work environment, and retaliation.

Ms. TallBear began working for DOE in May 2011. She was hired to advance tribal and Native American engagement, programming and policy initiatives. Throughout her employment, Ms. TallBear was subjected to pervasive racially offensive imagery and language, including the frequent use of derogatory language regarding Native people and the posting of “redskins” images in her workplace.

Beginning in 2012, Ms. TallBear continually notified DOE leadership of the offensive language and imagery but DOE refused to take actions to address her concerns. In October 2015, DOE banned Ms. TallBear from educating DOE employees on Native American sensitivities related to Indian representations and retaliated against her. Despite years of exemplary performance, DOE leadership has ostracized and isolated her, stripped her of her title, job responsibilities, and derailed her career path. With nowhere else to turn, Ms. TallBear brings this action against DOE for hostile work environment and retaliation for advancing the civil rights of Native American employees to not be subjected to racial slurs and offensive images in their workplace.

“Our society frequently forgets the incredible violence that makes up our country’s history with Native Americans, but we cannot forget that Native Americans deserve the same workplace protections as everyone else,” said Dennis Corkery, Senior Staff Attorney. “We want to hold DOE accountable for how Ms. TallBear was treated and see them move forward with more inclusive and sensitive practices.”

Venus McGhee Prince, co-counsel for Ms. TallBear adds, “as a senior policy advisor to the highest ranking diversity and civil rights official within DOE, Ms. TallBear has been leading positive change within DOE over the past four years by raising an awareness of the harmful impact that the ‘redskins’ language and imagery has on many Native Americans. All can agree that there is no harm to Ms. TallBear’s efforts to educate federal employees and build a more sensitive work environment for herself and others, especially when it is part of her job duties. We hope that Ms. TallBear can ultimately resume this necessary and influential work.”

Ms. TallBear is represented by the Washington Lawyers’ Committee and Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton LLP.

You can read a copy of the complaint here.

Matthew Handley,
(202) 319-1000

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