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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. State, Department of Corrections

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

March 27, 2018

EQUAL EMPLOYMENT OPPORTUNITY COMMISSION, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF NEW MEXICO, DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

         This matter comes before the Court upon the parties' Cross Motions for Partial Summary Judgment (Cross Motions), filed on May 30, 2017, and August 31, 2017. (Docs. 220, 270). Each party filed responses and replies, and the matters are now fully briefed. (Docs. 271, 318, 319, and 345). The Cross Motions address whether EEOC satisfied its prerequisites to suit. Having considered the relevant law, briefs, and uncontested evidence, the Court will grant partial summary judgment in favor of EEOC.

         A. Background and Uncontested Facts[1]

         This is an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforcement action. It arises from the New Mexico Department of Corrections' (NMDC) alleged failure to promote correctional officers over the age of 40. The pre-litigation proceedings began on August 25, 2010, when Richard Henderson filed an EEOC Charge of Discrimination (Charge) against NMDC. (Doc. 144-1) at 1-2. Henderson alleged Warden Anthony Romero overlooked him for a promotion in favor of a 31-year-old candidate based on “longevity.” Id. (Doc. 270) at 5; (Doc. 319) at 2. At the time, Romero was the Warden of Central New Mexico Correctional Facility (CNMCF). Id. Between 2010 and 2013, Robert Tenorio and Paul Martinez also filed age discrimination Charges against NMDC. [2] Id.

         II. The EEOC Investigation

         As part of its investigation, EEOC requested:

• Position statements and personnel files relating to Henderson and Tenorio; (Doc. 220-2) at 2; (Doc. 144-5) at 4.
• Information regarding correctional officers who sought promotions to the rank of Lieutenant or above at CNMCF; (Doc. 270) at 6; (Doc. 270-2) at 13.
• A list of all past and current CNMCF employees and supervisors, including the date of hire, current position, and (for former employees) the reason for leaving; (Doc. 270-2) at 23, 26.
• A list of all formal and informal discrimination complaints made by all NMDC employees. (Doc. 270-2) at 4-5.[3]

         EEOC also visited CNMCF on May 11, 2011, and May 8, 2012. (Doc. 220-2) at 2; (Doc. 270-2) at 24, 29. Investigator Jeff Stuhlmann interviewed at least 25 employees about the alleged discrimination and retaliation. (Doc. 220-2) at 2.

         In mid 2011, Romero was appointed Deputy Warden of Penitentiary of New Mexico (PNM). (Doc. 270) at 4; (Doc. 319) at 2. Romero subsequently[4] was promoted to the Deputy Division Director of NMDC's Adult Prisons Division at the Central Office in Santa Fe. (Doc. 270) at 4; (Doc. 319) at 2; (Doc. 220-2) at 2. As Director, Romero oversaw wardens at all NMDC facilities. (Doc. 220-2) at 3. By a letter dated May 24, 2012, EEOC informed NMDC that it was expanding its investigation to encompass potential age discrimination “against a class of individuals” in “the entire State of New Mexico” (Expansion Letter). (Doc. 270-2) at 40.

         Thereafter, EEOC requested a “complete and accurate employee list … of all [NMDC] employees since January 1, 2010, ” including the employees' name, contact information, date of hire, position, supervisor, and, if applicable, reason for leaving. (Doc. 220-2) at 2; (Doc. 144-5) at 13. On August 1, 2013, EEOC contacted each individual “to find out whether [they] … experienced or witnessed any potential age discrimination while … employed by” NMDC (hereinafter, Solicitation Letter). (Doc. 270-2) at 44. The letter encouraged employees to contact EEOC's investigator if they would like to discuss their work experiences at NMDC. Id. Following the investigation, EEOC concluded that age discrimination occurred in at least five NMDC facilities, including CNMCF and PNM. (Doc. 220-2) at 3.

         III. Determination Letters and Conciliation Efforts

         On September 13, 2013, EEOC issued reasonable cause determination letters (RCDs) to NMDC regarding the Henderson and Tenorio Charges. (Doc. 270-2) at 46-49. EEOC “determined that there is reasonable cause to believe that [NMDC] violated the ADEA by discriminating against the Charging Part[ies] and other aggrieved individuals” by:

[1] refusing to hire and/or promote individuals because of their age … [;]
[2] discriminating … with respect to their terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, including … creating and/or fostering a hostile work environment, subjecting individuals to discipline because of their age, terminating older individuals' employment, and/or by forcing older individuals to resign and/or retire[;] [and]
[3] discriminating … for opposing employment practices made unlawful by the ADEA, including … subjecting the individuals to discipline, refusing to hire and/or promote the individuals, subjecting the individuals to less favorable working conditions, and creating and/or fostering a hostile work environment for individuals who opposed unlawful employment practices.

(Doc. 270-2) at 46-49. The RCDs included an invitation to participate in informal conciliation discussions. (Doc. 270-2) at 47, 49.

         EEOC sent NMDC an initial conciliation proposal on April 16, 2014. (Doc. 270-2) at 50. EEOC requested certain policy changes and damages, stating:

There are a total of 16 class members currently identified (including … Henderson and … Tenorio) and the following damages are for all identified class ...

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