Indianz.Com > News > Hearing scheduled in Navajo woman’s lawsuit against National Organization for Women
E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse
The E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse in Washington, D.C. Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)
Hearing scheduled in Navajo woman’s lawsuit against National Organization for Women
Thursday, February 22, 2024

A hearing is taking in a discrimination and harassment lawsuit filed by a Navajo woman against the National Organization for Women (NOW).

Gilda Yazzie won election as vice president of NOW in 2017. Her lawsuit alleges she was the target of discrimination and harassment by Toni Van Pelt, then-president of the organization, almost immediately after taking office.

“I am the president, so you have to do what I say,” Yazzie alleges she was told by Van Pelt during a confrontation at NOW’s office in Washington, D.C., according to the complaint.

Gilda Yazzie
A campaign image for Gilda Yazzie for Vice President of NOW in 2017. Image: NOW

After more than three years of legal filings, a federal judge last month agreed that Yazzie’s case can go forward. The 55-page decision stated that a jury should determine whether NOW engaged in racial discrimination, created a hostile work environment and retaliated against the former vice president.

In rejecting NOW’s motion to end the case, Judge Randolph D. Moss wrote: “To the contrary, the underlying pillar of Yazzie’s entire case is that Van Pelt acted out of malicious racial discrimination and/or retaliatory animus in her treatment of Yazzie.”

Following the January 22 decision, Moss scheduled a status conference at the federal courthouse in D.C. for this Friday. Yazzie — who currently serves on the city council in Durango, Colorado — then sought to appear at the hearing remotely.

Moss granted the request, which was consented to by NOW, and ordered the parties to appear via Zoom at 4pm Eastern on February 23. The public can participate by going to the courthouse in person to watch the proceeding, as Moss will be there to lead the Zoom, his chambers said on Thursday. His courtroom is located on the 4th floor of the building.

Gilda Yazzie
Gilda Yazzie. Photo: City of Durango

Yazzie grew up on the Navajo Nation and has long been advocate for racial justice and civil rights issues. She had become a lifetime member of NOW in 1996, according to campaign materials from the time of her election.

“Feminism is in our DNA; we are a matrilineal society,” Yazzie stated at the time.

Yazzie won election to the city council in Durango in April 2023. She won the most votes of any candidate in the race, according to the results.

Yazzie is the first Native person to serve on the council in Durango, which is located near the homelands of the Navajo Nation, the Southern Ute Tribe and the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. About 5.5 percent of the city’s population identifies as American Indian or Alaska Native.

Durango is also home to Fort Lewis College, which originally served as an Indian boarding school supported and funded by the U.S. government. About 33 percent of the student body identifies as American Indian or Alaska Native, according to Data USA, with more than 180 tribes represented.

Turtle Talk has posted pertinent documents from the case, Yazzie v. National Organization for Women.