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Ex-Espãnola dean files race suit

January 29, 2019 GMT

The former dean of students at an Española charter school has filed a lawsuit that claims her contract wasn’t renewed on the basis of her race and because she supported a former superintendent who sued the school in September contending she was fired on the basis of racial discrimination.

Donna Wollman says in her complaint filed last week in state District Court in Santa Fe that she is was selected to be the dean at McCurdy Charter School through a competitive process and began working there in July 2017.

Wollman says she was periodically told that her work performance was satisfactory but was “subjected to a hostile work environment” motivated by her “race or national origin.”

Wollman does not specify her race or national origin, except to say she is “non-Hispanic.”

Wollman says she reported the hostile work environment to her supervisor, but school failed to remedy the situation.

According to Wollman’s complaint, then-Superintendent Michele Lucci in March 2018 learned her contract would not be renewed and filed a complaint of racial discrimination and retaliation with the New Mexico Human Rights Bureau.

Investigators from the agency contacted Wollman during their investigation of Lucci’s claim, the lawsuit says.

Wollman told them it was her “truthful belief that Lucci was terminated because of her race or national origin,” and her comments were shared with school administrators, according to the complaint.

Following that interview, Wollman says, she was placed on administrative leave for the rest of the school year and her contract was not renewed for the 2018-2019 school year.

Wollman accuses the school of discriminating against her on the basis of her race and because of her opposition to the school’s alleged discrimination against Lucci, contrary to employment laws and the state Whistleblower Protection Act.

She seeks an unspecified amount of damages, including lost wages and legal fees.

E. Justin Pennington, the lawyer representing both women, says in both lawsuits the school reconfigured its oversight board just before discussing Lucci’s contract to include “three Hispanic community members known to be hostile to Lucci.”

In a phone interview last week, Pennington said the state should re-examine the way charter schools are regulated — particularly the way their boards are composed.

School officials did not respond to a phone call and email seeking comment. The school filed a response in Lucci’s pending case in November denying her claims.