Delopez v. Bernalillo Pub. Schs., Civ. 19-735 JCH-KK

CourtUnited States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of New Mexico
PartiesGWENDOLEN DELOPEZ, Plaintiff, v. BERNALILLO PUBLIC SCHOOLS, DEMETRIA NAVARRETTE, in her individual capacity, KEITH COWAN, in his individual capacity, TAMIE PARGAS, in her individual capacity, and ERIC JAMES, in her individual capacity, Defendants.
Docket NumberCiv. 19-735 JCH-KK
Decision Date07 September 2021


BERNALILLO PUBLIC SCHOOLS, DEMETRIA NAVARRETTE, in her individual capacity, KEITH COWAN, in his individual capacity, TAMIE PARGAS, in her individual capacity, and ERIC JAMES, in her individual capacity, Defendants.

Civ. No. 19-735 JCH-KK

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

September 7, 2021


On November 16, 2020, Defendants Bernalillo Public Schools, Demetria Navarrette, Keith Cowan, Tamie Pargas, and Eric James (“Defendants”) filed a Motion for and Memorandum in Support of Summary Judgment (ECF No. 56). Defendants previously filed a Motion and Memorandum for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings (ECF No. 18), and in a Memorandum Opinion and Order thereon, this Court reserved ruling on whether to dismiss Counts IV and VIII until it reviewed the evidence submitted in the summary judgment briefs. (See Mem. Op. and Order 1-2, 17, ECF No. 72.) As permitted by the Court's order, the parties submitted additional briefs and evidence concerning the issues of exhaustion of administrative remedies for claims brought under the New Mexico Human Rights Act (“NMHRA”). (See Defs.' Br., ECF No. 75; Pl.'s Supp. Br., ECF No. 76.) The Court, having considered the motion, briefs, supplemental briefs, evidence, and applicable law, concludes that Defendants' motion for summary judgment should be granted as to all claims and the complaint should be dismissed in its entirety.


The record, viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff and drawing all inferences in her favor, shows the following.

Plaintiff had been employed with Defendant Bernalillo Public Schools (“BPS”) since 2008. (Defs.' Undisputed Material Fact (“UF”) ¶ 1, ECF No. 56.)[1] For the 2017-18 school year, Plaintiff had an employment contract as an art teacher with BPS at Carroll Elementary School (“Carroll”). (Id.) Principal Demetria Navarrette (“Navarrette”) was Plaintiff's supervisor for her final two years at Carroll. (Defs.' UF ¶ 2.) Plaintiff described her first year working with Navarrette as “okay.” (See DeLopez Dep. 49:14-23, ECF No. 56-2.) At the end of the 2016-17 school year, Plaintiff made a poster about a parent meeting, which came across as critical of Navarrette's method of communication about the meeting, and since that time, Navarrette began to put words in Plaintiff's mouth “and telling [her] to be quiet, even though [she] didn't say those words.” (See DeLopez Dep. 50:2-52:4, ECF No. 56-2.)

At the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, Navarrette made a “grimace” face, which was not nice, behind DeLopez's back to Navarrette's secretary, causing her secretary to laugh. (See Id. at 53:16-56:21.) During an ice breaker activity in a staff training the first or second day of school, Lori Spina (“Spina”) excluded DeLopez from the personality group in which DeLopez thought she belonged, and Navarrette thought it was fine. (See id. at 54:3-6, 56:10-21; Pl.'s Ex. 3, ECF No. 61-1 at 9 of 36; Pl.'s Ex. 15 at 16:6-7, ECF No. 61-2 at 20 of 38.) In a staff meeting at the beginning of the year, Navarrette also made a snide comment in response to a question from DeLopez, “Well, you have all the money. We don't.” (DeLopez Dep. 59:6-16, ECF No. 56-2.)

On or about August 18, 2017, DeLopez left Carroll to go to Bernalillo Elementary School. (See id. at 60:18-61:25; Pl.'s Ex. 2, ECF No. 61-1 at 8 of 36.) Because Navarrette was busy with parents, DeLopez told the office staff she was leaving, signed out on a clip board, and signed in and out at the other school. (See DeLopez Dep. 60:18-61:25, ECF No. 56-2; Pl.'s Ex. 2, ECF No. 61-1 at 8 of 36.) She assumed Navarrette would let her go to the other school despite DeLopez having bus duty. (Pl.'s Ex. 2, ECF No. 61-1 at 8 of 36.) Navarrette wrote a disciplinary warning for this incident, asserting that DeLopez failed to notify an administrator before she left the school, when DeLopez had been assigned to bus duty Carroll that afternoon. (See id.; DeLopez Dep. 60:1865:13, ECF No. 56-2.) After receiving a warning for leaving early without notifying the administration, DeLopez emailed the Superintendent to request a meeting with him and to complain that she was being bullied. (Defs.' UF ¶ 7, ECF No. 56.) Plaintiff had issues with other first-year principals too, saying that all first-year principals harass her. (See DeLopez Dep. 32:2433:9, ECF No. 56-2.)

On September 7, 2017, DeLopez went to the office and Jennifer Trujillo (“Trujillo”), the union president, and Spina, a union representative, blocked the door to the office. (See DeLopez Dep. 74:6-77:13, ECF No. 61-1.) Trujillo was upset because DeLopez emailed the vice-president of the union to get a copy of the collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”), and DeLopez, who was unhappy with union leadership, asked when there would be a vote for the union president. (See id.) Navarrette wrote a note regarding the incident, but DeLopez was not otherwise disciplined regarding it. (See id.; DeLopez Dep. 78:20-80:19, ECF No. 56-2.) The two union staff members were not disciplined, even though they were being loud. (See DeLopez Dep. 74:6-77:13, ECF No. 61-1.)

On December 1, 2017, during DeLopez's duty assignment, she called via a walkie-talkie to second grade teachers, politely telling them to come and pick up their students. (See DeLopez Dep. 155:4-17, ECF No. 56-2.) Even though the teachers were two minutes late, Navarrette yelled at DeLopez, “They still have a minute.” (Id.)

On December 5, 2017, Michelle Padilla (“Padilla”), BPS's director of curriculum and instruction, emailed DeLopez and other art teachers a document that gave a breakdown by school enrollment of the percentages of a Fine Arts Supply Material funds grant that would go to each school. (See DeLopez Dep. 84:9-12, 92:1-93:18, ECF No. 56-2; Defs.' Ex. E, ECF No. 56-5.) According to the email, teachers had a deadline of January 31, 2018, to turn in orders. (See DeLopez Dep. 93:14-18, ECF No. 56-2; Defs.' Ex. E, ECF No. 56-5.)

On December 15, 2017, Navarrette issued DeLopez a Formal Letter of Reprimand regarding a number of incidents. (See DeLopez Dep. 82:13-83:1, ECF No. 56-2; Ex. D, ECF No. 56-4). The first allegation occurred on December 5, 2017, in which DeLopez allegedly spoke to an educational assistant in loud and harsh tones, stating, “I'm talking to you.” (DeLopez Dep. 83:225, ECF No. 56-2; Ex. D, ECF No. 56-4.) According to the second allegation, DeLopez, without an appointment, walked into a meeting between Navarette and Padilla, and DeLopez demanded information from Padilla in a confrontational tone, even though they had already emailed the information to her. (DeLopez Dep. 84:5-85:10, ECF No. 56-2; Ex. D, ECF No. 56-4.) Third, the letter said that Celia Nielsen from the district office reported on December 6, 2017, that DeLopez was very rude and unprofessional to her on the phone in requesting information. (DeLopez Dep. 85:11-86:5, ECF No. 56-2; Nielsen Dep. 6:15-7:11, ECF No. 61-1 at 24 of 36; Ex. D, ECF No. 56-4.) Finally, on December 11, 2017, a parent called to report that DeLopez peeled a scab off her son's arm during her art class, and the wound continued to bleed. (See DeLopez Dep. 86:6-88:6, ECF No. 56-2; Ex. D, ECF No. 56-4.) The parent was very upset that DeLopez touched her son in this manner (See Ex. D, ECF No. 56-4.) The letter of reprimand warned DeLopez that she was not to touch students in any manner, according to state and school board policy, and that if that type of behavior occurs again, it “could lead to further discipline up to and including discharge/termination.” (Id.; see also DeLopez Dep. 88:7-16, ECF No. 56-2.)

DeLopez wrote a rebuttal to the letter of reprimand on December 21, 2017. (Ex. 5, ECF No. 61-1 at 20 of 36.) DeLopez disputed that she spoke to the educational assistant in harsh tones, that she spoke inappropriately to Padilla, and that she was rude and confrontational to Nielsen. (See DeLopez Dep. 83:6-13, 84:13-86:5, ECF No. 56-2.) DeLopez asked Padilla questions about the grant they recently received, and because Padilla was interrupting DeLopez, DeLopez asked her a couple of times if she could talk. (See id. at 84:13-85:10.) As for the incident with Nielsen, DeLopez said that she had trouble understanding her, so she was a little frustrated, and they started talking at the same time. (See id. at 85:11-86:5.) Regarding the scab event, DeLopez admitted that she pulled the scab off a second-grade student, but she thought the boy had glue with glitter sticking off his arm, so she took it off without realizing at the time that it was a scab. (Id. at 86:6-88:6.) The wound bled profusely. (Id.) DeLopez put on two band-aids and then sent the student to the nurse because it was bleeding so much. (Id.)

On or about January 18, 2018, Tamie Pargas (“Pargas”), BPS's Director of Human Resources, added a letter to DeLopez's personnel file, which corrected some errors in the December 15, 2017 letter. (Ex. 4, ECF No. 61-1.) The corrections clarified that four, not three, issues were listed in the letter; gave the correct reference to the Board policy forbidding inappropriate contact with any student; and removed “Corrective Action #1.” (Id.) The first corrective action referred to treating teachers appropriately, but the allegations involved staff, not teachers, so Corrective Action #2, requiring professionalism with all district staff, covered the corrective action. (Compare id., with Ex. D, ECF No. 56-4.)

On January 29, 2018, DeLopez emailed Padilla and asked for a two-week extension to order art supplies. (DeLopez Dep. 95:13-97:7, ECF No. 56-2; Ex. F, ECF No. 56-6.) Padilla gave her a one-week extension, but DeLopez asked for additional time beyond that because she was very stressed out about the reprimand. (See DeLopez Dep. 95:13-97:7, ECF No. 56-2.) DeLopez placed her order on February 11th, but there was an issue with the vendors, so the district...

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