Tribal Casino Employees Not Eligible for Workers’ Compensation, Rules New Mexico’s Top Court

January 21, 2020

SANTA FE, N.M. — A New Mexico Supreme Court decision says at least some tribal casino workers injured on the job can’t receive benefits through the state’s workers’ compensation program.

A unanimous ruling last Thursday precludes an Isleta Pueblo casino employee who hurt a knee while pushing chairs from bringing a claim against the pueblo or its insurer under the state program.

The program dismissed Gloria Mendoza’s claim on grounds that the pueblo can’t be sued in state court or administration proceedings without its consent under the doctrine of tribal sovereign immunity.

A state Court of Appeals ruling allowed Mendoza’s claim to proceed, but the Supreme Court said it couldn’t allow that because the pueblo isn’t part of the legal case and there’s no indication it ever agreed to participate in the state program.

The high court’s decision cautioned that the legal record in Mendoza’s case lacked some information and said the court’s conclusions applied only to the facts of that case.

It also said the state apparently had overlooked that the pueblo’s gambling compact with the state required the pueblo to either provide workers’ compensation coverage or agree to participate in the state program.

“There is no evidence in the record that such an agreement exists,” the ruling stated.

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