PESHAWBESTOWN — Six tribal Natural Resources Department employees who were fired for target shooting off the back deck of their office building returned to work this week.
“They were sent an email on Friday night that said they were not terminated, and they were expected back to work on Monday morning,” said Craig Elhart, attorney for five of the six employees. “It interested me because I had a copy of the termination letter in my hand. So they all went back (Monday) morning at 8 a.m.”
The employees were suspended, then fired on April 30 without pay after a co-worker, Brian Napont, saw them shooting a .22 rifle at targets stuck in the beach of West Grand Traverse Bay on a cold, wintry March day.
Bill Bailey, the tribe’s chief game warden, said in a previous article that no one was around when they were shooting the rifle.
The tribal management of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians made the decision to reinstate the employees after hearing new information at their disciplinary discharge hearing on June 18, Elhart said.
Band officials learned all six employees were authorized to possess weapons, and that target practice occasionally occurred at the tribe’s Natural Resource Building over the years.
Elhart said the fired employees carried a collection permit, which allowed them to shoot or “collect” animals that are diseased, ill, or severely injured.
“To do that, they use guns and they’re permitted to carry guns at all times,” Elhart said.
One issue was that termination was overly harsh, and discipline should have been progressive. None of the employees had prior reprimands before the shooting incident, he said.
“Can we all agree what they did was improper?” Elhart said. “Absolutely. But it didn’t deserve termination.”
Elhart declined to detail whether the employees received back pay.
“It’s all been resolved favorably to the employees,” he said. “Everyone is pretty happy.”
Grand Traverse Band officials did not return calls for comment.
After the firing, dozens of tribal members packed a Tribal Council meeting and demonstrated with signs to protest the employees’ termination.