Farmington asks court to dismiss union lawsuit

Dan Schwartz

FARMINGTON — The city of Farmington is asking a court to throw out a lawsuit filed by a union in an effort to force the city to give a fired employee her job back and compensate her for lost income.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 611 filed the complaint on Aug. 21 in Aztec District Court because the city wouldn’t rehire Juanita Garcia, despite an arbitrator’s order. Garcia was an operations technician at the Farmington Electric Utility System until her termination in February 2014.

An arbitrator in January determined the city had no justifiable reason to fire Garcia and in March ordered it to rehire her with full salary, benefits, seniority and back pay. But according to a collective bargaining agreement between the city and union, the City Council can ignore an arbitrator’s order through a unanimous vote, which it did in June.

City Attorney Jennifer Breakell said Garcia wasn’t doing her job, and documents filed on Oct. 1 list the city’s arguments for why a court should dismiss the union’s lawsuit.

Efforts on Tuesday to reach the union’s lawyers were unsuccessful.

Farmington street

According to the city’s answer to the complaint, the arbitrator did not properly or lawfully issue his order to rehire Garcia. Because of that, the City Council legally rejected the order, according to the answer.

Breakell said the arbitrator based his decision on Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints that had already been dealt with and couldn’t be used in further legal decisions. She said the arbitrator relied on the complaints “heavily.”

“They should not have been brought up in the new litigation,” she said, adding that the city was “quite surprised” that they were.

Among other reasons cited to dismiss the lawsuit, the court lacks jurisdiction to hear an appeal of the City Council’s decision to not rehire Garcia, according to a motion to dismiss. That is because of a rule that requires the union to have a “statutory right” to appeal, but it only alleged a “contractual right” under the collective bargaining agreement, according to the motion to dismiss.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606.