LUMBERTON — A former employee of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina is taking steps to ensure that a lawsuit filed against the tribe earlier this month will be heard in federal court.
Ashley Haywood, a Lumberton resident and former Miss Lumbee, filed a complaint Tuesday with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging sexism by Lumbee Tribe Enterprises, Jimmy Hunt and Tribal Chairman Paul Brooks, according to her lawyer, Josh Van Kampen, of Charlotte.
“I believe that Lumbee Ent. subjected me to sexual harassment and/or hostile work environment based on my gender, and retaliated against me for engaging in protected activity in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964,” Haywood said in the complaint.
A spokesman for the tribe declined to comment, saying that the tribe had not yet been served with the complaint.
Van Kampen said the complaint is the “first step” in taking a lawsuit filed in Mecklenburg County on Oct. 9 from the state to the federal level.
“Unlike the state claims, which she was able to file immediately, before she could file a federal charge she first needed to file a complaint with the EEOC,” he said.
According to Van Kampen, a federal lawsuit would place “additional liability” on the tribe by requiring it to pay Haywood’s attorney fees and related costs. But he said the main reason his office is seeking a federal trial is so the case will stay out of Robeson County, where he said there is a potential for jurors to be biased.
“Our position is that we will want to have a jury outside the area, that’s why we haven’t filed in Robeson County and instead filed in a more distant county,” Van Kampen said. “There is likely to be a fight over where trial should occur, but with federal claims, no matter what, it wouldn’t occur in the Robeson County courthouse.”
"I worried that I wouldn't receive a fair trial in Robeson County because it's majority Lumbee Indian and I filed claims against the tribe's leadership," Haywood said. "I just wanted an unbiased county to hear my claim."
According to Van Kampen, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will have six months to investigate the claim. The commission may then issue a “right-to-sue” letter, which is required to file a federal complaint — something Van Kampen says both he and Haywood are “eager” to do.
Haywood alleges that incidents of sexual misconduct by Hunt began shortly after she was hired as a housing specialist in October 2009 and continued until January 2010, when Hunt left his position as her supervisor. According to the lawsuit, she continued to work for the tribe until June 19 of this year, when she was fired for insubordination 11 days after filing a complaint against Hunt, who had returned to work for the tribe.
The suit claims infliction of emotional distress and false imprisonment, battery and wrongful termination.