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Burke v. State, General Services Department

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

January 16, 2020

HEATHER BURKE, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF NEW MEXICO GENERAL SERVICES DEPARTMENT, EDWYNN BURCKLE, JAY HONE, ANGELA DAWSON, BRENDA GUETHS, and KAREN BALTZLEY, Defendants. [1]

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR PARTIAL SUMMARY JUDGMENT ON COUNT I: FAIR PAY FOR WOMEN ACT AND COUNT III: INSPECTION OF PUBLIC RECORDS ACT

          STEPHAN M. VIDMAR, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion and Memorandum in Support of Partial Summary Judgment on Count I: Fair Pay for Women Act and Count III: Inspection of Public Records Act, filed on September 26, 2019. [Doc. 230]. Defendant State of New Mexico General Services Department (“GSD”) timely[2] responded on October 30, 2019. [Doc. 253]. Plaintiff replied on November 14, 2019. [Doc. 262]. No. other Defendant responded to the Motion, and none is needed because Count I and Count III assert claims against only GSD. See [Doc. 94] at 30, 33. The Court held oral argument on the Motion on January 9, 2020. [Doc. 288] (clerk's minutes). The parties consented to have the undersigned conduct dispositive proceedings and enter final judgment in this matter. [Doc. 104]. The Court has considered the briefing, the relevant portions of the record, the relevant law, and the oral argument. Being otherwise fully advised in the premises, the Court will DENY the Motion.[3]

         BACKGROUND [4]

         GSD employed Plaintiff as an Information Technology (“IT”) Generalist II from 2013 to 2016. [Doc. 94] at 3 (Third Amended Complaint). Normally, an IT Generalist II provides technology support within the State of New Mexico, such as by overseeing day-to-day operations of computer networks, troubleshooting technology issues, backing up data, and ensuring network security. See [Doc. 230-2] at 5-6. GSD employed two IT Generalist IIs during Plaintiff's tenure at GSD: Plaintiff, a woman, and Maurice Bonal, a man. Id. at 5-8, 13.

         Bonal began working at GSD as an IT Generalist II on November 1, 2010. [Doc. 253-2] at 1. He received a starting salary of $35.50 per hour. Id. Plaintiff began working at GSD on January 22, 2013. Id. at 2. She received a starting salary of $32.50 per hour. Id. Upon her hiring, Plaintiff “primarily handle[d] computer desktop responsibilities for GSD because she lacked the requisite level of experience and knowledge of the GSD infrastructure and systems to handle the server, storage, and network responsibilities that Mr. Bonal was already responsible for.” Id. As Plaintiff continued working at GSD, she gradually gained additional duties, eventually “[taking] on some of the server, storage, and network responsibilities.” Id. at 3. Plaintiff and Bonal each received various raises throughout their tenure at GSD. By 2014, Plaintiff earned $70, 324.28 annually, while Bonal earned $76, 815.75 annually. [Doc. 253-2] at 3. Defendant Karen Baltzley supervised both Plaintiff and Bonal. Id. at 2. Defendant Edwynn Burckle served as the Cabinet Secretary for GSD during the events underlying this lawsuit. [Doc. 253-2] at 11.

         On April 18, 2016, Plaintiff emailed GSD Director of Communications Estevan Lujan requesting “a copy of emails sent and received between Karen Baltzley and Maurice Bonal of the General Services Department . . . from 2013-present” under the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act (“IPRA”). [Doc. 230-3] at 1. Later on April 18, 2016, she added to this request, requesting Bonal's hiring documents as well. Id. at 2. Lujan responded on April 20, 2016, stating that he “[would] require additional time to research and respond to [Plaintiff's] request.” Id.

         Plaintiff filed her Complaint, pro se, against the State of New Mexico and various employees on April 21, 2016, in New Mexico state court. [Doc. 1-2] at 1. Among other claims, she alleged that Defendants violated the New Mexico Fair Pay for Women Act (“FPWA”) by paying her a lower annual salary than Bonal. See [Doc. 1-8] at 10-11.

         On May 2, 2016, Plaintiff again expanded her IPRA request, requesting documents showing GSD staff's overtime hours and the amount of money that the State of New Mexico has paid to settle (1) whistleblower claims from 2010 to the present, (2) and civil-rights claims from the prior 15 years. [Doc. 253-6] at 1. Thus, at this point, Plaintiff had outstanding requests for four categories of documents: the emails between Baltzley and Bonal, Bonal's hiring documents, overtime documentation, and documents showing the above settlement amounts. On May 3, 2016, Lujan again informed Plaintiff that he “[would] need more time to process [her] request.” [Doc. 230-3] at 4.

         On May 13, 2016, Lujan emailed Plaintiff a letter formally responding to her IPRA requests. [Doc. 230-3] at 5. Lujan attached to the email documents responsive to the overtime-hours request. Id. at 6. He found Plaintiff's request for all emails between Bonal and Baltzley between 2013-2016 to be “‘broad and burdensome' . . . requir[ing] additional time to produce” because the emails “[were] voluminous and require[] extensive review to ensure compliance with IPRA that no information that is prohibited from release is contained within the documents.” Id. Lujan in part denied Plaintiff's request for the settlement amounts. Id. at 7. He found the remainder of the request for the settlement amounts broad and burdensome. Id. at 6-7.

         Lujan concluded his letter by stating, “Given all of these facts, we are still happy to provide you with regular installments of [the] information you request[ed]. Please contact us with what would be the best way to start an installment schedule. In the alternative, if you make your request less broad the process will be expedited.” Id. at 8. Lujan stated that he would “continue to be in touch with [Plaintiff] regarding the outstanding items [5] remaining in [her] portfolio of requests” and that he would “be in touch [with her] no later than May 20, 2016.” Id. Lujan did not contact Plaintiff by May 20, 2016. On May 22, 2016, Plaintiff emailed Lujan asking, “When will the other records be provided to me?” [Doc. 253-7] at 1. Lujan never responded to this email. Plaintiff never responded to Lujan's offer to begin inspecting the requested records on an installment basis.

         Plaintiff submitted a formal IPRA grievance with the New Mexico Office of the Attorney General at some time after one of her communications with Lujan.[6] See [Doc. 253-9] at 3-5. She alleged that she never received the emails (among other documents) and never received a written explanation for their non-production within 15 days. Id. at 4-5.

         Defendants removed this case to federal court on May 23, 2016. [Doc. 1]. Plaintiff resigned from her position at GSD on July 5, 2016. [Doc. 253-2] at 3. On May 15, 2017, the Office of the Attorney General sent Lujan a letter determining that GSD had violated the IPRA by “not timely providing the emails between [Ka]ren Baltzley and Maurice Bonal for inspection.” [Doc. 230-3] at 11. The Office of the Attorney General concluded this letter by stating, “It is the expectation of this office that if the emails have not yet been produced for inspection, that they will be produced to [Plaintiff] immediately.” Id. at 15.

         Plaintiff filed her Third Amended Complaint on July 11, 2018. [Doc. 94]. In Count I, she asserts an FPWA claim and a federal Equal Pay Act (“EPA”) claim against GSD. Id. at 30-32. In Count III, she asserts an IPRA claim against GSD. Id. at 33-34. Plaintiff filed the instant Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on September 26, 2019, arguing that she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on her FPWA claim and IPRA claim. [Doc. 230]. To date, Plaintiff has not received all emails between Baltzley and Bonal that she requested under the IPRA.[7] Id. at 7.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         “The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). When applying this standard, the court must construe the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Tolan, 572 U.S. at 657. “[W]here the moving party has the burden-the plaintiff on a claim for relief or the defendant on an affirmative defense-[her] showing must be sufficient for the court to hold that no reasonable trier of fact could find other than for the moving party.” Paul v. Monts, 906 F.2d 1468, 1474 (10th Cir. 1990) (first alteration in original) (quoting Calderone v. United States, 799 F.2d 254, 259 (6th Cir. 1986)). A court must deny summary judgment if a reasonable trier of fact could find for the non-movant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986).

         Plaintiff proceeds pro se. Courts liberally construe pro se filings. Calhoun v. Att'y Gen. of Colo., 745 F.3d 1070, 1073 (10th Cir. 2014). Yet, courts cannot act as advocates for pro se parties. Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991).

         ANALYSIS

         A. The Court will deny Plaintiff's Motion as to her FPWA claim because, in relying solely on general job descriptions of the work allegedly performed by her and Bonal, she fails to establish that she and Bonal performed substantially equal work.

         GSD argues that the Court should deny Plaintiff's Motion related to her FPWA claim for four reasons. First, GSD contends that Plaintiff improperly relies solely upon job descriptions to show that she performed substantially equal work as Bonal. [Doc. 253] at 15-17. Second, it argues that Plaintiff wrongly compares her salary only to Bonal, ignoring 47 other IT Generalist IIs employed by the State of New Mexico. Id. at 17-18. Third, it argues that it paid Plaintiff according to a merit-based compensation system, an affirmative defense under the FPWA. Id. at 18-23. Finally, it contends that if the Court finds that GSD did not pay Plaintiff according to a merit system, it ...


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