Lawsuit alleges racist remarks

Carol Berry, Today correspondent
7/16/10

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. – A city official has implied that Navajo people are lazy and unkempt, according to a lawsuit’s allegations that center on local government practices in this community adjoining Denver.

A discrimination lawsuit brought against City Manager Gerald Flannery and other city officials by Stephanie Salazar, a former Commerce City economic development director, contends that the remarks were made in a meeting in 2007.

Flannery asked Salazar “if she was familiar with Navajos,” and she “indicated she was not,” in that meeting, states the petition filed in June in District Court seeking jury trial.

Flannery “explained that when he was a deputy county manager for Coconino County, Arizona, he worked with several Navajos,” the petition states, adding that he “indicated that Navajos are lazy and that keeping up ‘clean’ appearances was not a priority for Navajo people.”

He “expressed surprise” that the Navajo woman Salazar had hired for a city job “took the initiative to apply for the position.”

The allegations about racist comments are part of Salazar’s web of complaints spanning several years and centering on age, sex, retaliatory actions, and other job complaints. She was 48 at the time of her complaint and says that after she was terminated her position was filled by a 28-year-old woman.

Salazar said her personnel file supports that she performed her job satisfactorily, and charges city violations of the Civil Rights Act, Colorado Anti-discrimination Act, Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and unlawful retaliation and Constitutional equal protection rights.

After she exhausted federal and state administrative remedies, Salazar filed suit, contending that before her complaint of discrimination she “had never been disciplined or received a corrective action.”

Retaliation ensued after the January 2008 complaint and before her termination six months later, including a threat to fire her if she discussed performance evaluation matters with others, a written reprimand, and public criticism over a presentation she gave to city government, she contended.

Salazar sued for attorney fees and certain costs to be allowed “to the fullest extent permitted by law.”

She cited other instances of allegedly discriminatory conduct she observed among Commerce City officials, culminating in $77,500 and $125,000 awards in 2007 and 2008 to two employees who filed complaints of discrimination and retaliation against minorities and women.

The two discrimination complaints “demonstrate that there exists a widespread practice by city officials, particularly those with final policy-making authority, to discriminate and retaliate against minorities and women,” the suit contends.

“As this is pending litigation, unfortunately (Commerce) City cannot comment on many of the allegations because of personnel or privacy issues,” said Nanette Neelan, deputy city manager, adding that the city will “fully litigate” the case so the facts can be made public.

Commerce City “does not tolerate any form of discrimination and we are confident that when the facts are presented, the city and its accused representatives will be fully vindicated of the accusations by the former employee,” she said.

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