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Injured workers from Senecas’ hotel lose legal challenge

NIAGARA FALLS – An injured former Seneca Niagara Hotel worker has no recourse after the Seneca Gaming Corp. dropped non-Indian workers’ compensation insurance, thus cutting off her benefits.

That was the ruling this week from an administrative law judge of the state Workers’ Compensation Board.

The employee, Rashinaz Khasanova, of North Tonawanda, an immigrant from Uzbekistan, hurt her back moving a mattress in September 2011 and went on compensation Jan. 11, 2012.

That was a month after the Senecas dropped their workers’ compensation insurance from Arch Insurance Co. and informed Khasanova and seven other injured employees that their cases would henceforth be handled under “tribal law.”

What that meant was that the Senecas’ new third-party insurance administrator, Tribal First of San Diego, cut off their benefits, insisting the workers had recovered as much as possible.

Khasanova’s weekly pay at the time she went on workers’ compensation was $398.80. Her benefits started at $265 a week and later were cut in half before she was cut off altogether last May.

Her income now is $179 a week in unemployment benefits and $300 a month in food stamps. She also is on Medicaid.

Khasanova and her Niagara Falls attorney, Lawrence Lindsay, brought an action to try to force Arch to pay benefits for injuries that predated its ouster by the Senecas. The judge ruled this week that Arch is off the hook for all those cases, Lindsay said.

“The decision points out that under federal law, state law is pre-empted [by the involvement of an Indian nation], and as such, the sovereign nation chose to exercise sovereign immunity and the state cannot do anything about it, quite frankly,” Lindsay wrote in an email to The Buffalo News.

A spokesman for the compensation board told The News in February that Indian nations don’t have to buy the same workers’ compensation insurance that is required of other employers in New York State.

Phil Pantano, spokesman for Seneca Gaming, said it would have no comment on the ruling.