Poarch Band of Creek Indians can't be sued for firing employee

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians recently demolished the building that housed its council chambers and health department with plans to develop something new on the site. Photo by PBCI

The Poarch Band of Creek Indians can't be sued for allegedly firing an older employee and replacing her with a younger one, a federal appeals court ruled on Tuesday.

Christine J. Williams worked for the Alabama tribe's health department for 21 years before she was terminated in 2014. She alleges she was replaced by an "under-qualified" 28-year-old in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act.

But the law does include tribes in its definition of "employer," the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals noted. That means Congress did not abrogate the tribe's sovereignty immunity, Judge C. Lynwood Smith, Jr., wrote for the majority.

And since tribe hasn't waived its sovereign immunity, Williams can't proceed with the lawsuit, even if her allegations are true.

"Thus, even though the ADEA is a statute of general applicability, and the Poarch Band might be generally subject to its terms, the doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity protects the Poarch Band from suits under the statute," Smith wrote.

The 11th Circuit's decision follows similar ones from other federal appeals courts. The Second Circuit, the Eighth Circuit and the Tenth Circuit all have determined that Congress did not waive tribal immunity through the law.

The agreement among the various circuits means Williams might have a hard time convincing the U.S. Supreme Court to hear her case if she decides to appeal.

Turtle Talk has posted documents from the case, Williams v. Poarch Band of Creek Indians.

11th Circuit Court of Appeals Decision:
Williams v. Poarch Band of Creek Indians (October 18, 2016)

Join the Conversation