RENO, Nev. —The former tribal chairman of California’s Timbisha Shoshone Tribe is suing a Nevada resort for racial discrimination.

Jimmy-John Thompson, who lives in Sacramento, Calif., filed a lawsuit in Nevada state court last month against the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino in Reno, Nev., alleging that the popular Reno attraction discriminated against him because he was Native American. 

According to the lawsuit, on Oct. 15, 2022, Thompson was a guest at the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino when he noticed the smell of smoke coming from the air vent in his hotel room and called the front desk to report a potential fire. The front desk dispatched hotel staff to check Thompson’s room and reported they could not find a source of smoke. The hotel then changed Thompson’s room. 

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Because Thompson was concerned about the smoke, he then called the Reno Fire Department to report a potential fire on the property. The fire department investigated and eventually cleared the property of any potential fire, saying to Thompson that the source of the fire had been extinguished. 

The lawsuit asserts the hotel dispatched two security guards to Thompson’s new hotel room and demanded he leave the property. They allegedly also accused him of committing arson in his former hotel room, claiming they had evidence against him according to court documents.  

“Jimmy-John Thompson was treated so poorly at the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino with no rational basis for the treatment he received,” Norberto J. Cisneros, legal representation for plaintiff Jimmy-John Thompson, told Native News Online. “Reporting a potential fire, resorted to him being accused of arson, and then being evicted from the hotel at 4 a.m., having to sleep in his car, with no opportunity to explain or refute himself for trying to save lives.”

If he was not a Native American, if this was a person not of color, he would have never experienced this kind of treatment. It’s embarrassing and can harm a person’s reputation.” 

Because Thompson was denied the ability to enjoy the services of a public accommodation while others were able to do so, the suit alleges the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino violated his civil rights by discriminating against him. His attorney is asking for $15,000 for damages. 

Since the incident, Cisneros says he has sent two separate demand letters to the Grand Sierra Resort and Casino asking for the organization to acknowledge the treatment of Thompson. “We have heard nothing from them,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this in my career.”

Thompson also has deep vein thrombosis (“DVT”) and takes medication to treat his condition. A side effect of his medication can cause a person to have involuntary convulsions if exposed to colder temperatures. As a result of being evicted from his hotel room at 4 a.m., he was forced to sleep in his vehicle, which caused him several convulsions, the suit says.

Thompson was attending the Western Mining Action Network’s conference when he was escorted out by security guards. His purpose in attending the conference was to make a field visit near the Thacker Pass Lithium mine, a project highly contested by tribes in the region. Because he was unable to rest, he missed the field visit to Thacker Pass.

“I was guilty out of the gate,” Thompson told Native News Online. “They didn’t want to hear anything from me.”

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About The Author
Author: Darren ThompsonEmail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Darren Thompson (Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe) is a staff reporter for Native News Online who is based in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. Thompson has reported on political unrest, tribal sovereignty, and Indigenous issues for the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Indian Country Today, Native News Online, Powwows.com and Unicorn Riot. He has contributed to the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Voice of America on various Indigenous issues in international conversation. He has a bachelor’s degree in Criminology & Law Studies from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.