The Chippewa Cree Tribe of the Rocky Boy’s Reservation v. United States Dep’t of the Interior, 2018 WL 3978542 (9th Cir. 2018)

Ken St. Marks, a member of the Chippewa Cree Tribe, informed the United States Department of the Interior (the “Department”) that he believed members of the Tribe’s governing body were misusing federal stimulus funds that were awarded to the Tribe pursuant to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (the “Act”).  To safeguard these funds, Congress enacted robust whistleblower protection for employees of any non-federal entity receiving funds under the Act.  After analyzing the evidence, the Department determined the Tribe had engaged in a prohibited reprisal against St. Marks for his whistleblower activities and awarded him $650,000 in back pay, costs and fees.  In this opinion, the Ninth Circuit denied the Tribe’s petition for review of the Department’s order, holding that St. Marks performed services on behalf of the Tribe as chairman of its Business Committee and he was, therefore, an employee within the meaning of the Act.  The Court further held that the Department’s order did not infringe the Tribe’s sovereignty or powers of self-governance and that the Tribe’s removal of St. Marks as chairman of the Business Committee was retaliatory.