Last month, on February 2, 2017, Jonathan Neru, (Jonathan), filed a complaint against the Isleta Resort and Casino with the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The NLRB is a federal agency. It is responsible for protecting employees from illegal and unfair labor practices.
Jonathan was an employee of the Isleta Resort and Casino. He worked as a Mechanic for 10 years at the Isleta Golf Course.
Harold Baugus is the CEO of the Casino. Baugus replaced Pamela Gallegos.
Governor Eddie Paul Torres and the Isleta Tribal Council hired Baugus in May of 2015. At that time, the Council Members were: Verna Teller, Barbara Sanchez, Betty Lente, Frank Lujan, Michael Allen Lente, Ulysses Abeita and Fernando Abeita.
Last year, at the end of July, Baugus asked Jonathan to serve as the Interim Golf Course Superintendent. Baugus promised Jonathan a substantial pay increase of $20,000.00 to take the job. Jonathan took the temporary position.
45 days later, on September 14, 2016, Harold Baugus suspended Jonathan from his new job. The Isleta Resort and Casino, however, continued to pay Jonathan during his suspension. Baugus kept Jonathan on suspension — with pay — for a period of 4 ½ months.
Jonathan asked why he was being suspended. But, the Casino refused to provide an explanation.
So, the Isleta Gaming Regulatory Agency (Gaming Agency) began an investigation. Joseph “Cougar” Lucero is the Investigator for the Gaming Agency. He interviewed Jonathan several times.
Later, Harold Baugus hired the law firm of Wolf and Fox to conduct its own investigation on behalf of the Isleta Resort and Casino. In December of 2016, Christine E. Hagemann, an attorney with Wolf and Fox, also interviewed Jonathan.
Finally, more than 4 months after the Casino suspended Jonathan, the Casino’s investigation did not prove anything against Jonathan. Indeed, the Gaming Agency’s investigation cleared Jonathan from any wrongdoing. So, Baugus did not have any legitimate grounds to fire Jonathan.
Nevertheless, Harold Baugus wanted Jonathan gone. So, on January 31, 2017, Baugus decided to get rid of Jonathan by “outsourcing” his job as a Mechanic. The Isleta Resort and Casino issued a letter to Jonathan stating:
“[a]fter critical review of our current organizational structure and considering all the competing needs for the Isleta Eagle Golf Course, the Isleta Resort and Casino (IRC) has made the decision to eliminate your position as Mechanic (inclusive of your short term role as Interim Superintendent) effective immediately as the decision was made to outsource golf course maintenance. . . .”
The Isleta Resort and Casino then tried to coerce Jonathan into signing a “separation agreement” to prevent Jonathan from filing a lawsuit or making any other complaints against the Casino, the Pueblo of Isleta, or Harold Baugus. The Casino also tried to force Jonathan to “reaffirm” his “obligation” to maintain “confidentiality” about the Casino’s “investigation.”
Jonathan, however, demanded that the Casino provide him with its findings from the investigation before he signed anything. Of course, the Isleta Resort and Casino refused to provide him with any findings. The Casino took its usual position by claiming that everything was “confidential” and “proprietary.” So, Jonathan refused to sign the Casino’s separation agreement.
Instead, Jonathan requested a form to file a grievance. Annelle Lerner, Director of the Human Resources Department for the Isleta Resort and Casino, refused to provide him with a grievance form. Lerner told Jonathan that the Casino’s lawyers advised them that the Casino was not obligated to allow Jonathan to file a grievance because Jonathan was losing his job based on a “reduction of force.”
Jonathan also asked Yolanda Ramirez to provide him with a grievance form. Ramirez also refused his request. Ramirez told Jonathan that he could not file a grievance. Ramirez is the Human Resources Manager for the Casino.
Jonathan then requested a written statement from the Casino’s HR Department explaining why it was refusing to provide him with a grievance form. The HR Department ignored his request.
The Casino’s security then escorted Jonathan off the Casino’s property.
Since the Casino refused to allow Jonathan to file a grievance, Jonathan had no options available except to file a complaint with the NLRB.
Throughout the US, the NLRB has taken Indian tribes to court to protect the rights of employees at Indian casinos.
However, Indian tribes, like the Pueblo of Isleta, fight against the NLRB by arguing that the NLRB lacks jurisdiction to investigate labor practices at Indian Casinos due to sovereign immunity. Sovereign immunity is a legal defense that requires courts to dismiss cases against tribal governments. This prevents employees and many other persons damaged by Indian tribes from getting any justice.
Federal courts are divided on whether sovereign immunity prevents the NLRB from protecting employees of Indian casinos. Some federal courts have sided with Indian tribes by ruling that the NLRB lacks jurisdiction. But, some federal courts have ruled that the NLRB does have jurisdiction to protect employees of Indian casinos. So, there is a split of legal authority.
Jonathan’s complaint is now pending with the NLRB.
There will be more to come from Jonathan on his battle against Harold Baugus, the Isleta Resort and Casino and the Isleta Tribal Council.
Most likely, the lawyers for the Pueblo will move to dismiss Jonathan’s case with the NLRB based on sovereign immunity.
The Isleta Tribal Council typically uses sovereign immunity to avoid accountability. The Isleta Tribal Council is the legislative branch of government for the Pueblo. It also functions as the Board of Directors for the Casino.
The current members of the Isleta Tribal Council for the 2017-2018 term are:
Frank Lujan, President;
Douglas Jiron, Vice President;
Edward Calabaza, Secretary;
Michael Allen Lente;
Verna Teller; and
Juan Rey Ashkii Abeita
The NLRB could also dismiss Jonathan’s case because Jonathan held a “management” position with the Golf Course. Remember, before terminating Jonathan, Baugus shifted Jonathan from his position as a Mechanic into a management position as the Interim Superintendent for the Isleta Golf Course. A position that Jonathan held for only 45 days. The NLRB does not typically accept cases from persons holding “management” positions.
Why did Harold Baugus terminate Jonathan from his job as Interim Superintendent of the Golf Course after only 45 days?
Why was Baugus so eager to outsource the positions held by Jonathan?
Baugus hired an entire management company called Keygolf to take over Jonathan’s job as a Mechanic, why was this necessary for a job as a Mechanic?
What was the relationship between Harold Baugus and the owners of Keygolf management BEFORE he hired them to replace Jonathan as a Mechanic?
Did the Isleta Gaming Regulatory Agency issue a gaming license to Keygolf? If not, why?
Why did it take 139 days for the Casino and the Isleta Gaming Regulatory Agency to investigate Jonathan Neru?
Why does the Isleta Resort and Casino and the Tribal Council refuse to allow its employees to have a copy of the casino’s personnel policies and procedures?
Why does the Isleta Resort and Casino refuse to afford all employees an opportunity to file grievances?
Why are lawyers for the Casino able to prevent employees from filing grievances?
Why did Baugus try to coerce Jonathan into signing a “separation agreement,” if the Casino was simply eliminating Jonathan’s position based on a “reduction of force?”
How many thousands of dollars did Harold Baugus waste conducting his investigation?
How many thousands of dollars did the Tribe pay to Wolf and Fox?
How many thousands of dollars will the Casino waste on the lawyers who will now coverup Baugus and the Isleta Tribal Council to avoid accountability with the NLRB?
Why was it necessary for the Casino and the Gaming Agency to conduct separate investigations?
Are you sure that YOU would want to work for the Isleta Resort and Casino?
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