Rincon Band Can’t Intervene in Lawsuit Sparked by Harrah’s SoCal Reopening Mid-Lockdown

Posted on: February 11, 2021, 03:22h. 

Last updated on: February 11, 2021, 09:46h.

The Rincon Band of Luiseño Indians may not intervene in a federal lawsuit brought by the former general manager of its Harrah’s Southern California resort, a federal judge has ruled.

Harrah's CoCal
Former Harrah’s SoCal GM Darrell Pliant (pictured) sued his former employer over its decision to reopen in May. (Image: LinkedIn)

Harrah’s SoCal is managed for the Rincon by Caesars Enterprise Services (CES), a unit of Caesars Entertainment. In September last year, the casino’s ex-senior vice president, Darrell Pilant, sued CES, claiming constructive dismissal.

Pilant resigned after registering his opposition to the plan to reopen the casino last May on the grounds that it was a coronavirus safety risk. Pilant had worked for Caesars Entertainment for over 22 years. He claims he “was forced to resign because [Defendants] continued to insist that he reopen the [Resort] despite the health and safety risks.”

Constructive dismissal occurs when an employee leaves their job because of unreasonable or hostile behavior by their employer.

Tribal Sovereign Immunity

The decision to reopen was taken despite California Governor Gavin Newsom writing to the Rincon and two other San Diego-area tribal operators, asking them to reconsider their plans. The Democratic governor warned the tribes that “COVID-19 transmission remains a serious threat for all Californians.”

Because the Rincon is a sovereign tribe and the casino is based on its sovereign land, the state cannot force the casino to remain shuttered.

Pilant originally sued Caesars in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of San Diego. But the casino giant applied to have the case transferred to the federal US District Court for the Southern District of California.

Caesars argued that the case could not be heard in the state court because the decision to reopen had been the tribes. Lawyers for the Reno, Nevada-based company said this made the tribe an indispensable party in the case, and the tribe could not be sued in a state court.

Caesars knew it would be more difficult for Pilant to sue the operator and the tribe together because, for one, the tribe was not his employer. Secondly, suing a corporation is much simpler than suing a sovereign government.

When the case got moved to the federal court, Caesars’ lawyers immediately attempted to have it dismissed. They moved on the grounds that the California court had no personal jurisdiction because the casino giant was based out of state.

District Judge Disagrees 

While US District Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo agreed to drop the complaint against Caesars Entertainment on these grounds, she refused to dismiss the claim against CES. Since CES managed Harrah’s SoCal in the state, the motion was “borderline frivolous,” she said.

On Monday, she rejected the Rincon’s bid to intervene as an indispensable party for the purpose of seeking dismissal, saying the tribe does not have a “protectable interest” in the case.

The tribe had claimed its interest lay in the question of the applicability of California state law to the governance of its lands. They add that the case “cannot be litigated fairly without trampling on the sovereignty of the Rincon Band.”

The judge disagreed, countering that “nothing decided in this case will change, reduce, or eliminate any rights the Rincon Band currently has concerning the governance of activities on its land.”

Despite the best efforts of Caesars and the Rincon, the case continues.