Federal judge rules against former Bloomfield schools employee

Joshua Kellogg
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A federal judge has ruled against a former Bloomfield schools employee who sued the school district and a former administrator for multiple instances of alleged racial discrimination and retaliation.

Roxanne Arthur, a former social worker for the Bloomfield School District, filed a lawsuit in federal court on Dec. 10, 2013, against the district and Rob Ford, the former principal at Mesa Alta Junior High School.

U.S. District Judge Martha Vazquez issued a summary judgement on June 17 in favor of the district and Ford in regard to the racial discrimination and retaliation claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Emails and phone calls to Arthur's lawyer Darlene Gomez were not returned.

"The district is relieved that the issues have been resolved," district Superintendent Kim Mizell said.

The lawsuit was spurred by a letter of determination issued by the Albuquerque office of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which said Arthur had "reasonable cause" to deduce she had endured racial slurs and retaliation.

Arthur resigned from her position in August 2013.

Derick Newtown, area office director of the EEOC's Albuquerque office, issued the letter that also states Bloomfield schools denied the allegations.

The judge stated that Arthur was unable to substantiate a hostile work environment claim under Title VII.

While the racial comments were "profoundly abhorrent," Vazquez wrote the comments were not sufficiently severe, in light of their relative infrequency.

The lawsuit states Arthur was sent the word "squaw" in a text message from Bloomfield Police Department school resource officer Tina Adair at the behest of Ford.

According to court documents, Ford took responsibility for the message and apologized to Arthur, and told her he did not mean to offend and he would refrain from similar conduct in the future.

Arthur accepted Ford's apology and considered the matter resolved if his apology was sincere.

The second incident cited in the lawsuit states that a co-worker told Arthur that Ford referred to her as a "squaw" in the co-worker's presence in July 2011.

"Plainly, this is not the cloth from which a hostile work environment claim may be stitched," Vazquez wrote.

The judge ruled the alleged retaliation is "not 'materially adverse'" under Title VII but that Arthur could still pursue her claim for retaliatory discharge.

Arthur alleges she suffered retaliation after filling the EEOC complaint in July 2011, which caused a significant change to her job duties. The alleged retaliation included being excluded from a meeting and having her office moved without notice.

The judge notes Arthur admitted later she was told by her principal that her office was being moved.

On Aug. 8, 2014, the defendants asked the court to dismiss some of Arthur's claims from the lawsuit.

The court partially granted the motion by dismissing any stand-alone claim for punitive damages, any claims arising from the common law of New Mexico and retaliation claims based on events that occurred more than 300 days before Oct. 3, 2012.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627 and Follow him @jkelloggdt on Twitter.