Labor union sues city of Farmington to rehire former employee

Dan Schwartz The Daily Times
The Daily Times

FARMINGTON — A local labor union is suing the city of Farmington for firing an employee and refusing to rehire her, despite an arbitrator's order.

The International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 611 is asking the city to give Juanita Garcia back her job and compensate her for lost income, among other requests.

The union filed its complaint Aug. 21 in Aztec District Court. Farmington has not filed a response and has until the end of the month to do so.

"We will defend management's actions and look forward to presenting our side of the story," City Attorney Jennifer Breakell said.

Garcia was an operations technician at the Farmington Electric Utility System and was fired Feb. 14, 2014, according to the complaint. The city terminated Garcia because she wasn't able to do her job, Breakell said, though she declined to be more specific.

Efforts to reach Garcia and her lawyers on Thursday were unsuccessful.

In January, an arbitrator determined Farmington had no justifiable reason for firing Garcia and ordered the city in March to rehire her with her full salary, benefits, seniority and back pay, the complaint states.

But according to a collective bargaining agreement between the city and union, the Farmington City Council can ignore an arbitrator's order through a unanimous vote, which is what councilors did in June. The council can ignore an arbitrator's order for a few specific reasons, such as if the arbitrator was corrupt, according to the complaint.

The complaint also claims the City Council violated the state's Open Meetings Act because it voted against rehiring Garcia in a closed meeting.

Breakell said that is not true.

"Farmington did not take an official vote in a closed executive session," she said, adding that the council took official action in public.

This isn't Garcia's only lawsuit against the city.

In April 2012, she filed a complaint against the city claiming it denied her promotions because she is a woman and retaliated against her when she complained. The city denies the allegations, according to its response.

In January, Garcia filed another complaint against the city making similar claims. The city denied those claim and asked the court on Thursday to throw out the lawsuit because Garcia "failed to exhaust her administrative remedies" before suing, according to the city's response.

Both lawsuits are ongoing.

Dan Schwartz covers government for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4606 and Follow him @dtdschwartz on Twitter.