An environmental group opposing the construction of a new oil pipeline across Minnesota is embroiled in a lawsuit by a former employee who alleges she was fired after complaining that a colleague had sexually harassed her and some American Indian boys several years ago.
Margaret Campbell filed a lawsuit in Becker County in February against Honor the Earth, a group formed in 1993 by members of the band Indigo Girls and former vice presidential candidate Winona LaDuke.
Campbell had initially filed a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights in January 2016 alleging that she had been sexually harassed by a co-worker in 2014 and 2015, and that LaDuke and others in the organization failed to take her seriously when she brought the matter to their attention. She resigned under duress in February 2015 and has been unable to get a comparable job.
The human rights agency completed its investigation of the complaint last August, concluding that there was "no probable cause" to show that Honor the Earth was guilty of sexual discrimination or that it took punitive actions against Campbell because of her allegations.
The agency found that the alleged harassment was too old to pursue under the law and that Honor the Earth had nondiscriminatory reasons for terminating Campbell's employment. Specifically, it cited evidence that she had violated the organization's confidentiality rules by speaking publicly about her allegations before it had completed an internal investigation.
The human rights department noted that Honor the Earth had established a no-tolerance policy on sexual harassment and had at least temporarily cut its ties with the former co-worker of Campbell's who was the subject of her allegations.
Campbell appealed. Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey upheld the findings in November and noted that Campbell had 45 days under the law to pursue the matter in court.
Frank Bibeau, an attorney for Honor the Earth, challenged the suit on jurisdictional grounds, arguing before Becker County District Judge Gretchen Thilmony on Wednesday that the lawsuit belonged in tribal court because most of the environmental group's activities take place on the White Earth Band of Ojibwe reservation in northwestern Minnesota.
Christy Hall, an attorney for Campbell, argued that Honor the Earth is subject to state laws because it's incorporated as a Minnesota nonprofit. The human rights department agreed with her when evaluating the initial complaint.
Thilmony took the matter under advisement.
Dan Browning • 612-673-4493