United States District Court, D. Colorado
ROBYN MONDRAGON f.k.a. ROBYN DURAN, Plaintiff,
ADAMS COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 14, ADAMS COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 14 BOARD OF EDUCATION, PATRICK SANCHEZ, individually and in his official capacity, KANDY STEEL, individually and her official capacity, WALTER KRAMARZ, individually and in his official capacity, JAMES DURAN, individually and in his official capacity, and CHERRY CREEK SCHOOL DISTRICT NO. 5, Defendants.
T. BABCOCK, JUDGE
employment discrimination case is before me on (1) Defendant
Patrick Sanchez's motions to dismiss the complaint and
amended complaint (ECF Nos. 37, 70); (2) Defendants Adams
County School District No. 14 (the “District”),
Adams County School District No. 14 Board of Education (the
“Board”), and Walter Kramarz's (collectively,
“Adams”) motion to dismiss the amended complaint;
and (3) Plaintiff Robyn Mondragon's motion for default
judgment against defendant James Duran. (Mot. Default
Judgment, ECF No. 17.)
light of amended complaint, I DENY as moot Mr. Sanchez's
motion to dismiss the initial complaint. (Sanchez's Mot.
Dismiss, ECF No. 37). For the reasons described below, I
GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART Mr. Sanchez's motion to
dismiss the amended complaint (Sanchez's Mot. Dismiss,
ECF No. 70.), and I GRANT IN PART and DENY IN PART
Adams's Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint (Adams's
Mot. Dismiss, ECF No. 71.) Because the clerk has not entered
default as to Mr. Duran, I DENY WITHOUT PREJUDICE Dr.
Mondragon's Motions for Default Judgment against
Defendant James Duran. (Mot. Default Judgment, ECF No. 17.)
otherwise noted, the allegations described below are taken
from Dr. Mondragon's amended complaint. (Am. Compl., ECF
County School District No. 14 is a public school district in
Colorado, governed by its Board of Education. Roughly 83% of
the District's students are Hispanic. In March 2010, the
United States Department of Education, Office for Civil
Rights (“OCR”) launched an investigation into
discriminatory and retaliatory education and employment
practices by the Board and the District. (OCR Report, ECF No.
47-1.) In 2012, the District removed its former
superintendent and hired Mr. Sanchez. (Id. at 3.)
April 2014, the OCR issued a report concluding that the Board
and District engaged in discriminatory education and
employment practices targeted at Hispanic and
Spanish-speaking students and staff from 2008-12.
(Id. at 2.) The OCR report concluded “that
District administration targeted the use of Spanish by
students and staff for criticism, discipline, unfair
treatment, and ‘eradication' regardless of the
circumstances, situations or venue.” (Id. at
6.) For instance, a teacher “told students they could
go back to Mexico” and was not punished. (Id.
at 8-9.) A principal made “derogatory comments about
Hispanic students and parents regarding their cultural
differences and poverty, ” including once telling a
staff member to “not worry about Hispanic students
making messes in the bathrooms because Mexicans are poor,
that Mexicans didn't use toilet paper, there were few
restrooms in Mexico and Mexican children did not know how to
use a restroom.” (Id. at 9.) The District
involuntarily moved Hispanic staff to “unfamiliar
grades and subject areas in an effort to increase
teachers' personal prep time, workloads [sic] to set
teachers up for failure, and ultimately intimidate teachers
to leave.” (Id. at 11.) The OCR report's
conclusions were widely reported in the media.
District and Mr. Sanchez agreed to voluntarily resolve the
violations described in the OCR report. Relevant to this
case, the District agreed to “[p]romptly investigate
all incidents of harassment on the basis of race, color, or
national origin, ” hire a new grievance officer, create
a central database to track complaints of discrimination,
renew its anti-discrimination and anti-harassment policies,
and prohibit retaliation against persons who report alleged
harassment or participate in related proceedings.
District recruited Dr. Mondragon, an expert in equity in
education who worked at Cherry Creek School District in
Colorado, to rectify the illegal practices and restore the
District's reputation in the community. Dr. Mondragon
started working with the District in July 2014, and in
January 2015, was promoted to Chief Equity and Communications
Officer. Her work had an immediate and positive effect on the
Dr. Mondragon's duties was to investigate discrimination
and retaliation complaints from staff, parents, and students.
In November 2014, the Board received 21 letters complaining
of discrimination at Rose Elementary School based on
Hispanic/Latino race or speaking Spanish. Dr. Mondragon
conducted an extensive investigation into the complaints,
interviewing witnesses and reviewing relevant documents.
After her two-month investigation, Dr. Mondragon concluded
that administrators at Rose Elementary had created an
atmosphere of distrust and implemented disproportionate
measures against certain parents. Dr. Mondragon reported her
findings and recommendations to remedy the situation in a
January 30, 2015 report.
Sanchez, who was having an extramarital affair with the
principal of Rose Elementary, balked at the report's
conclusions. At a meeting held on February, 6, 2015, he asked
Dr. Mondragon to change her conclusions, a request Dr.
Mondragon found not just inappropriate but a violation of the
OCR agreement. She refused. Undeterred, Mr. Sanchez
inappropriately accessed Dr. Mondragon's computer to make
changes to her final report.
Sanchez then launched an investigation into Dr. Mondragon
without her knowledge. Around March 9, 2015, Mr. Sanchez
stripped her of her investigatory duties, cutting off an
investigation into a discrimination complaint filed by a
Hispanic teacher. Later that month, the deputy
superintendent, Kandy Steel, physically confronted Dr.
Mondragon and admonished her about her leadership style. The
next day, Mr. Sanchez, Ms. Steel, and Dr. Mondragon met and
discussed trust and loyalty interactions with women, a
conversation that struck Dr. Mondragon as bizarre.
Sanchez's investigation of Dr. Mondragon included
repeated communications with James Duran, Dr. Mondragon's
estranged husband, beginning in March 2015. Mr. Duran, who is
a family friend of Mr. Sanchez's, reported that Dr.
Mondragon was having an affair with a District employee. This
allegation was not true. However, according Mr. Duran, at
some point Mr. Sanchez confirmed that the affair had been
going on for some time and also said he had “tons of
proof” regarding the affair. Mr. Sanchez also told Mr.
Duran that Dr. Mondragon “had been engaged in various
underhanded behavior and was probably going to be reprimanded
very soon.” Mr. Sanchez's communications about Dr.
Mondragon's employment was a violation of the
March, Mr. Duran and Mr. Sanchez met at a bar. According to
the District, Mr. Duran invited Mr. Sanchez to meet;
according to Mr. Duran, the meeting was coincidental. The
next day, Mr. Sanchez put Dr. Mondragon on investigatory
leave without any explanation.
April 2, 2015, Dr. Mondragon formally complained of
discrimination and retaliation to Jack Kronser, the Acting
Chief Director of Human Resources at the District. Despite
the OCR settlement agreement's requirement of prompt
investigations into allegations of discrimination, the
District never investigated Dr. Mondragon's complaint.
April 6, 2015, Mr. Duran warned Dr. Mondragon that “all
hell is going to break loose today for you. I'm sorry for
what I've done and what is coming.” That same day,
Dr. Mondragon was called to a meeting with Mr. Kronser and
his executive assistant, Yessica O'Conner, who took the
notes during the meeting. Mr. Kronser reported that
“people” had said that Dr. Mondragon's
meetings lacked focus and that she was trying to align people
against Mr. Sanchez. Mr. Kronser also questioned Dr.
Mondragon's leadership, particularly as it pertained to
“gender distrust.” Mr. Kronser also brought up
Dr. Mondragon's conduct at a conference at Houston, where
Dr. Mondragon drank to the point that she threw up in a
bar's bathroom. Mr. Kronser reported the allegation that
Dr. Mondragon was having an affair with a District employee,
and Dr. Mondragon refused to respond to that allegation.
Other topics at the meeting included allegations that Dr.
Mondragon disparaged the effectiveness of Mr. Kramarz, the
District's general counsel, and “attacked
leadership” by suggesting that perhaps people
questioned her leadership because she was a person of color.
Dr. Mondragon was given the opportunity to respond to the
allegations at the meeting.
the deteriorating situation at the District, Dr. Mondragon
considered starting her own business. She contacted some
friends who worked at Cherry Creek as high-level and cabinet
employees. One of her friends, Jennifer Perry, told her that
a Cherry Creek principal was authorized to set aside funding
for a contract involving equity work. Ms. Perry and Dr.
Mondragon met to discuss this possibility, and Dr. Mondragon
met with two other executive-level officials who expressed
enthusiasm about the idea.
8, 2015, while she was still in talks with Cherry Creek about
possible contract work, Dr. Mondragon learned that the
District planned to terminate her employment before her
contract ended on June 30, 2015. She did not learn why she
was being terminated.
19, 2015, Mr. Kramarz called Cherry Creek to ask whether they
planned to rehire or consult with Dr. Mondragon. That same
day, Cherry Creek School District's Educational
Operations Leadership Team met to discuss various topics,
including a potential contract for Dr. Mondragon. Dr.
Mondragon received text messages about the meeting, informing
her that “folks were advised not to let schools hire
[Dr. Mondragon's] company, ” and that
“someone from Adams spoke to Sonia [Sonya McKenzie,
Cherry Creek School District's Counsel]” and that
the “Adams person said you were consulting [with an
attorney.]” Cherry Creek did not retain Dr.
27, 2015, the District formally terminated Dr.
Mondragon's employment without any further explanation.
After Dr. Mondragon filed a complaint with the Colorado Civil
Rights Division, the District reported that she was
terminated because of the (false) allegation she was having
an affair and inappropriate behavior at the conference.
During the Colorado Civil Rights Division's
investigation, Mr. Sanchez showed various community members
and District employees the District's position statement
and emails to the Colorado Civil Rights Division. These
documents repeated the untrue allegations about Dr.
Mondragon's extramarital affair. When he was interviewing
for a job with the Newark Unified School District Board, Mr.
Sanchez again shared the untrue allegations about the affair,
including at a public meeting. Mr. Sanchez ultimately
accepted the Newark job.
April 2016, Larry Quintana, a member of the Adams Board until
November 2015, told another former Adams employee that Mr.
Sanchez was under investigation for his human resources
practices. He explained, “the thing that is really
bothering the board is that 90 percent of the people that he
gets rid of are women. He forces them out.” He added
that Mr. Sanchez “does not like women [who] voice their
opinions” and “does not like women.” Mr.
Quintana concluded that “I think they did [Dr.
Mondragon] a real injustice and that is all I am going to
Mondragon filed a complaint in this Court against the
defendants alleging that she was wrongfully stripped of her
investigative duties, placed on administrative leave, and
then terminated from her job as the District's Chief
Academic and Equity Officer. (Compl., ECF No. 1.) Because Mr.
Duran did not respond to the complaint, Dr. Mondragon filed a
motion for default judgment against Mr. Duran and provided
some supporting documentation. (ECF Nos. 17, 22, 29.) The
clerk did not enter default because Dr. Mondragon has not yet
filed proof she served the amended complaint on Mr. Duran.
(Clerk's Note, ECF No. 86.)
Adams, Ms. Steel, and Mr. Sanchez filed motions to dismiss
and Dr. Mondragon voluntarily dismissed some claims, Dr.
Mondragon filed an amended complaint. (ECF No. 64.) Dr.
Mondragon and Ms. Steel then filed a stipulated motion to
dismiss the claims against Ms. Steel with prejudice (ECF No.
77), and I granted that motion and denied Ms. Steel's
pending motion to dismiss as moot (ECF Nos. 78-79.) In light
of the amended complaint, I also dismissed as moot
Adams's motion to dismiss pursuant to Adams's request
for clarification. (ECF No. 68.) Cherry Creek then filed an
answer to the amended complaint (ECF No. 72), and Adams and
Mr. Sanchez filed motions to dismiss the amended complaint
(ECF Nos. 70-71).
Rule 12(b)(6), “[d]ismissal is appropriate only if the
complaint, viewed in the light most favorable to plaintiff,
lacks enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” United States ex rel.
Conner v. Salina Regional Health Center, 543 F.3d 1211,
1217 (10th Cir. 2008) (quotations marks omitted). A claim is
plausible on its face “when the plaintiff pleads
factual content that enables the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009) (citing Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 556 (2007)). “The plausibility standard is
not akin to a ‘probability requirement, ' but it
asks for more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has
acted unlawfully.” Id.
plaintiffs need not provide “detailed factual
allegations” to survive a motion to dismiss, they must
provide more than “labels and conclusions” or
“a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see
also Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678 (explaining that a
complaint will not suffice if it offers “naked
assertions devoid of further factual enhancement”
(quotations and alterations omitted)). Furthermore,
conclusory allegations are “not entitled to be assumed
true.” Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 679.
may not dismiss a complaint merely because it appears
unlikely or improbable that a plaintiff can prove the facts
alleged or ultimately prevail on the merits.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. Instead, a court must ask
whether the facts alleged raise a reasonable expectation that
discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary elements.
Id. If, in view of the facts alleged, it can be
reasonably conceived that the plaintiff could establish a
case that would entitle him to relief, the motion to dismiss
should not be granted. Id. at 563 n.8.
a motion to dismiss is a “harsh remedy” that
should be “cautiously studied” to
“effectuate the liberal rules of pleading” and
“protect the interests of justice.” Idias v.
City & Cnty. of Denver, 1178 (10th Cir. 2009).
general, a motion to dismiss should be converted to a summary
judgment motion if a party submits, and the district court
considers, materials outside the pleadings.” Prager
v. LaFaver, 180 F.3d 1185, 1188 (10th Cir. 1999).
However, a court may properly consider additional documents
if they are (1) “mentioned in the complaint, ”
(2) “central to [the] claims, ” and (3) not
challenged as inauthentic. Toone v. Wells Fargo Bank,
N.A., 716 F.3d 516, 521 (10th Cir. 2013). I accordingly
consider (1) the OCR report from the United States Department
of Education (ECF No. 47-1) and (2) Dr. Mondragon's
employment contract (ECF No. 71-2), which meet each of the
elements above, in deciding this motion.
MOTIONS TO DISMISS
Claim One: Denial of Equal Protection under 42 U.S.C. §
1983 against the District, Board, and Mr. Sanchez
Claim One, Dr. Mondragon alleges the Board, District, and Mr.
Sanchez violated her rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
which provides a remedy for the deprivation of rights under
the Constitution or the laws of the United States by someone
acting under the color of state law. She alleges that the
Board, District, and Mr. Sanchez deprived her of equal
protection under the Fourteenth Amendment by placing her on
investigatory leave, refusing to investigate her claims of
employment discrimination, and terminating her. Mr. Sanchez
responds that he is entitled to qualified immunity and that
in any event, Dr. Mondragon does not sufficiently allege a
claim for relief based on an equal protection violation. The
District and Board argue that Dr. Mondragon has not
sufficiently alleged a prima facie case of discrimination. As
I explain below, I conclude that Dr. Mondragon's
complaint pleads facts showing a plausible claim that Mr.
Sanchez, the Board, and the District violated her clearly
established federal rights by firing her because she was a
Hispanic woman. I accordingly deny the motions to dismiss
Sanchez argues this claim should be dismissed because he is
entitled to qualified immunity. Qualified immunity protects
an executive official who violated the plaintiff's
federally protected right so long as the official did not
violate clearly established federal law. Therefore,
a Rule 12(b)(6) motion based on qualified immunity should be
granted unless the complaint states facts ...