A 22-year Española School District employee filed a discrimination and retaliation suit Nov. 17 against the District, Board members Ruben Archuleta and Gilbert Serrano and former superintendent Bobbie Gutierrez.
Veronica War-Montoya states in her complaint that Archuleta, Serrano and Gutierrez conspired to move War-Montoya out of her position as assistant principal at Española Valley High School and into a lower, less favorable position.
War-Montoya is represented by Santa Fe attorney Jack Hardwick. He alleges that War-Montoya was in December 2015 transferred from her position as librarian at Fairview Elementary to be interim assistant principal at the High School.
At the end of that school year War-Montoya claims Archuleta and Gutierrez were “conspiring to dismiss the EHS (sic) basketball coach, Richard Martinez, without cause and for purely personal reasons.” After Gutierrez fired the coach, the board at that time, fired her.
At that point War-Montoya states she requested to finish the school year in the librarian position at Fairview Elementary.
When Gutierrez was rehired in 2017 War-Montoya said she asked for and received the position as librarian at the High School. The suit goes through War-Montoya’s various moves in the District, ending with her position as assistant principal at the High School.
At a Feb. 9, 2019 basketball game War-Montoya alleges Serrano told her the principal (Victoria Gonzales) and War-Montoya should not be in their positions. She alleges Serrano told her “This is a man’s job, and the kids need to see a strong man here.”
War-Montoya states Gonzales heard the comment also.
War-Montoya filed a complaint Feb. 13, 2019 with the New Mexico Public Education Department. She informed Gutierrez on Feb. 21,2019 that she had done so. She alleges she told Gutierrez she planned to file a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
War-Montoya states Gutierrez asked her to hold off, that she had spoken to Serrano and advised him, “His behavior was not acceptable and not to speak to War-Montoya in that fashion,” the claim states.
Gutierrez did not return a phone call seeking comment.
In May 2019, War-Montoya received a letter of intent to renew her position as assistant principal at the High School. However, on July 11, 2019 War-Montoya was summoned to the District office by Gutierrez, who told her she was being placed as principal of Abiquiú Elementary, a demotion in War-Montoya’s eyes.
She states she told Gutierrez she was carrying out Serrano’s bias, to which Gutierrez responded she was protecting War-Montoya from Serrano. Ultimately Gutierrez told War-Montoya to take a drive and “let her think about it.”
War-Montoya was summoned an hour later back to the District office, where Gutierrez was meeting with Middle School Principal Clifford Tompson. War-Montoya was then offered the dean of students position at the middle school and she would not be resuming her duties at the High School. War-Montoya accepted the dean of students position.
The suit alleges in February 2020 a staff member reported to War-Montoya and Tompson that Archuleta was “intimidating him and pressuring him to lie about money that Archuleta had collected illegally from students and parents of students,” who were part of the middle school sports program.
War-Montoya reported these allegations to Gutierrez on Feb. 7.
At a Feb. 18 basketball game, the suit alleges Archuleta approached War-Montoya, “and firmly placed his hand on War-Montoya’s shoulder in an intimidating manner, without War-Montoya’s consent, and told her that he ‘appreciated’ War-Montoya’s treatment of Archuleta’s son, who was a student,” at the Middle School.
Reached by telephone Tuesday Archuleta said he could not speak about pending litigation.
On May 4, Superintendent Fred Trujillo summoned War-Montoya to his office and told her that her position had been eliminated and she was being placed in the assistant principal position at the Middle School for the 2020-21 school year.
“Immediately after War-Montoya signed a letter of intent accepting the assistant principal position, EPS posted an advertisement soliciting applications for the dean of students position,” at the Middle School.
Trujillo stated in a Tuesday email the District does not comment on pending litigation.
The suit claims discrimination in violation of the New Mexico Human Rights Act, Retaliation in violation of the New Mexico Human Rights Act, discrimination in violation of the Civil Rights Act and retaliation in violation of the Civil Rights Act, violation of the Whistleblower Act and asks for damages for violations of constitutional rights, namely and the first and 14th amendments.
War-Montoya asks for compensatory damages for past and future lost earnings and emotional distress and punitive damages sufficient to punish Archuleta and Serrano for their illegal conduct and deter them and others from engaging in similar conduct, plus attorney’s fees.
A request for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s investigation and the District’s internal investigation into the matter were pending with the District since Tuesday.