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Flores v. City of Farmington

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

February 8, 2019

REYES FLORES, and PAT FLORES, Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF FARMINGTON, STEVEN HEBBE, NICK BLOOMFIELD, MATTHEW VEITH, TOM SWENK, and TAFT TRACY, all in their individual capacities, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court upon the Defendants' Motion for Partial Dismissal of Plaintiff's Complaint, filed August 3, 2018 (Doc. 20). Having reviewed the parties' pleadings and the relevant law, the Court finds that Defendants' motion is well-taken in part and, therefore, is GRANTED IN PART.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs, officers with the Farmington Police Department, allege that Defendants discriminated against them on the basis of their religion. Plaintiffs Reyes and Pat Flores are brothers. They both have self-described “long held deep-rooted Christian beliefs.” The Farmington Police Department (“FPD”) and employees were aware of their Christian faith, and many people in FPD also held similar beliefs. All individual Defendants appear to be employees of the Farmington Police Department or City of Farmington.

         A. Plaintiff Reyes Flores.

         On September 6, 2016, Defendant Veith notified Plaintiff Reyes that an Internal Affairs investigation had been initiated against him. The notice did not provide any details on the allegations or alleged violations. On September 21, 2016, Lt. Crum notified Reyes that he was being transferred from the training division to the patrol division and prohibited him from leading any informal or formal training in the department.

         As part of the internal investigation, Defendant Veith interviewed Reyes at least four times, during which he referenced Reyes' religious beliefs, the expression of those beliefs in the work place, and the inappropriateness of sharing those religious beliefs in the workplace. Plaintiff Reyes led certain trainings as a Field Officer Trainer. Plaintiff Reyes believed he was being accused of forcing religious beliefs on his trainees or subordinates while in the workplace.

         The internal affairs investigation disclosed that Reyes did not force, coerce, compel, or require any department employee to follow his religious beliefs. However, the investigation found that Reyes engaged in discriminatory conversations with trainees and subordinates. The proposed discipline included (1) removal from his training position and revocation of his Field Officer Trainer status; (2) removal from the SWAT team; (3) a written reprimand (4) and other discipline.

         Plaintiff Reyes filed a grievance. The discipline was subsequently reduced to counseling. Plaintiff Reyes continued to pursue his grievance but was not successful. He alleges he has been denied subsequent opportunities based on this discipline and subsequently received the worst performance evaluation of his career.

         B. Plaintiff Pat Flores.

         Plaintiff Pat Flores has been applying for lieutenant positions since 2014. He alleges that other less qualified candidates, including ones he trained, were selected over him four times.

         On June 27, 2017, Plaintiff Pat had a feedback session with Defendant Tracy. Defendant Tracy told him that although his qualifications were better than those selected based on training and experience, he was not promoted because of his perceived strong religious beliefs and he would not be promoted unless he surrendered those beliefs.

         C. Claims Asserted.

         Plaintiffs assert the following fourteen claims:

Count I: 42 U.S.C. § 1983: First Amendment Retaliation.
Count II: 42 U.S.C. § 1983: Fourteen Amendment Equal Protection / Hostile Work Environment.
Count III: 42 U.S.C. § 1983: Fourteen Amendment / Procedural Due process.
Count IV: 42 U.S.C. § 1983: Fourteenth Amendment / Substantive Due Process.
Count V: 42 U.S.C. § 1983: Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection / Religious Discrimination.
Count VI: Title VII: Religious Discrimination.
Count VII: Title VII: Retaliation.
Count VIII: Title VII: Hostile Work Environment.
Count IX: New Mexico Human Rights Act: Religious ...

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