The Utah Anti-Discrimination Division will not hold a hearing to sort out allegations made by a former Ute Tribe Head Start worker because the Ute Tribe has challenged the state agency's jurisdiction in the matter.
In a letter to complainant Linda Skinner, Roosevelt, UADD Director Joseph Gallegos Jr. said the division has reviewed the matter and found that they "do not have adequate jurisdiction over the subject matter . . . since the alleged discriminatory action took place against an Indian tribe within an Indian reservation."Skinner filed a complaint with the UADD last month, alleging she was fired as a Ute Tribe Head Start coordinator because she is white. Skinner maintained that Head Start Director Linda Lippert who is also white - fired her without allowing her to complete a 60-day probation period, but has not taken the same action against her Native American co-workers whom she had also placed on probation.
Lippert maintains Skinner was fired for insubordination and harassment. Skinner denies the allegations. Up until her sudden termination two months ago, the 53-year old Skinner had maintained an exemplary record during her 5 1/2 years of employment as a Head Start mental health-disabilities coordinator.
Skinner contends that her problems with Lippert came to a head when the director instructed her to stop assisting her American Indian co-workers when they requested her help. Lippert suspended Skinner without pay for two weeks just a few days after placing her on a 60-day probation. The day before she was to return to work, Lippert sent Skinner a termination notice. Lippert took over as Head Start director for the tribe last August.
Following her firing, Skinner was denied a hearing before a grievance committee, a right Skinner maintains she is afforded under the federal Head Start personnel manual. Head Start officials with the tribe did agree to grant her a grievance hearing last week after the UADD dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction.
Two days after the hearing, the grievance board wrote to Skinner informing her that her complaint and request for reinstatement were denied.
Skinner's legal advocate, Tom Cantrell, has questioned the legality of how the grievance hearing was conducted. During the day-long hearing, Cantrell was prohibited from addressing the three-member committee on his client's behalf. And he said that Skinner wasn't informed until the hearing was under way that she could have brought in her own witnesses to testify.
Skinner was able to round up about seven witnesses who met one-on-one with the grievance committee later on that day. Many who testified would only do so on the condition that they could speak without fear of reprisal, Skinner said.
The grievance hearing was continued the following day to offer Lippert and her supporters an opportunity to respond.
Cantrell says the case runs strong in Skinner's favor and he will pursue it into federal court if necessary after tribal remedies are exhausted. "She is under a federal program, and even if the state doesn't handle it, we will find the proper channel and get it resolved, but I hope it can be resolved by the tribe," Cantrell stated. "This isn't about her against the tribe. It's about an administrative issue."