Former Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative employee Teresa Chavez filed suit March 12 against the Co-op as well as former board member John Tapia for sexual discrimination. She was fired Feb. 8, 2021.
Chavez had been working as the Co-op’s accounting manager since 2018 and had been a Co-op employee since 2014. Around May 2019 Chavez said she was directed by former interim general manager Andrew Chavez to start taking the job duties of a chief financial officer. During her time performing those duties, employees assisting interim general manager Andrew Chavez were granted additional pay, except for Teresa Chavez.
While doing the tasks of the CFO Teresa Chavez said she was told she would be promoted to the position of CFO by the next general manager, Ernesto Gonzales, but was denied promotion to the position. Teresa Chavez said she was told by Tapia that they were advertising her position outside of the Co-op as a formality. Male employees were promoted to management and leadership positions during this time period.
Teresa Chavez was after some time given the title of CFO but not given an increase in compensation. She then said Tapia undermined her constantly and fermented harassment from other Co-op employees.
Theresa Chavez said she witnessed countless workplace incidents that created a hostile work environment for women. It rose to the level that she started the process of filing a complaint with the New Mexico Human Rights Bureau.
Teresa Chavez’s lawyer’s Merit Bennett said that it’s not uncommon for women to work the most in a workplace for the least amount of pay.
“Once she got to the point of being frustrated of not being given equal elevation, promotion or pay for the work she was doing,” Bennett said. “You get frustrated to the point where you feel you need to result to a legal remedy because no one is doing anything about it.”
Gonzales did not respond to calls nor emails by presstime. He has since been replaced by Michael Hastings but is still the person responding for the Co-op regarding this lawsuit.
Bennett said that Teresa Chavez started with mediation between her and the Co-op to negotiate her pay.
“Mrs. Chavez is a loyal employee who felt if she hung in there they’d do the right thing, she wanted to give them an opportunity to do the right thing,” Bennett said. “We got to the mediation, and in good faith trying to figure this out so she could continue to work there, and they offered an amount to basically adjust the pay disparity that was lower than insulting. Which indicated there was no good faith here.”
Bennett said the notice of Teresa Chavez’s termination of employment came shortly after the failed mediation, which Bennett said he felt was in direct retaliation for the negotiations.
“It’s especially concerning that they would do this in the middle of the pandemic,” Bennett said. “They knew that the impact would be essentially devastating, which was not only concerning, but I was shocked that they would do that especially when they terminated one of the main sources of the problem in Mr. Tapia.”
Tapia was ousted from the Co-op’s board in December and is highlighted as one of the main sources of discrimination in the lawsuit.