WR church sues former employees

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By The Staff

White Rock United Methodist Church has filed suit against five former employees. In court documents filed Aug.13 in Los Alamos District Court, White Rock United Methodist Church, doing business as Horizons Preschool and Daycare, and daycare director Darlene Tanski filed a Complaint of Declaratory Judgment against former Horizons employees Rachel Martinez, Ella Martinez, Joanie Maestas, Evan Padilla and Elizabeth Quintana.

According to the complaint, the church at 580 Meadow Lane, hired Tanski in August 2006 and she became the five women's supervisor.

The complaint begins with allegations that in September 2006, Maestas indicated to Tanski that she was upset Tanski had not selected her to be the assistant director at Horizons. Throughout the remainder of 2006 and into January 2007, all five women, and in particular Rachel and Ella Martinez, expressed dissatisfaction with Tanski's changes to Horizon's curriculum and the learning environment.

According to court documents, "defendants caused strife among Horizon's staff. Defendants referred to Tanski by the term 'Jew' in a way meant to denigrate her and her heritage in particular."

The complaint states that in late 2006, the State of New Mexico issued citations regarding some of the women's failures to perform their jobs adequately and in compliance with state requirements. "On or about January 8, 2007, Defendants wrote a letter to Horizon's board of directors complaining about Tanski," stated the complaint. "Defendants have falsely characterized the letter as a complaint about alleged race discrimination by Tanski."

The complaint states that on or about Jan. 22, Tanski recommended the termination of employees Rachel and Ella Martinez to Horizon's board of directors. The board adopted Tanski's recommendation and determined the women would be notified of the decision on Jan. 26.

During the week of Jan. 22, problems arose as Padilla was working with a mother to help wean her child off the bottle.

"On Jan. 26, 2007, around noon, Defendants Rachel and Ella Martinez, who were not responsible for the child's care, decided they would attempt to use a child to try to get Tanski in trouble or to pressure her to quit her position as director," stated the complaint. "Defendants Rachel and Ella Martinez told Tanski that they were going to report her to state authorities for allowing a child to nap with a bottle. Despite claiming that they had witnessed a child in danger, Defendants Rachel and Ella Martinez did not remove the child from the allegedly dangerous situation or take the allegedly dangerous object away from the child. Defendants Rachel and Ella Martinez' complaints were a pretext for their own ulterior and improper motives."

Following an alleged confrontation by Ella Martinez to Tanski, Ella and Rachel Martinez left the premises with Defendant Quintana. They returned later that day and Rachel and Ella Martinez were told in a meeting that their employment was terminated. Quintana and Padilla left with the other two women, "quitting their jobs and abandoning the children in their care."

On Jan. 29, according to the complaint, Maestas arrived at Horizons and informed Tanski she was quitting.

The five women allege in a complaint they filed earlier this month that they were discriminated against because they are Hispanic. They also claim that they were all fired and are seeking unspecified damages.

Attorney Stephen Tinkler, of Tinkler & Firth, is representing the former employees. He said the women called him in late January. "We had to first file with the New Mexico Human Rights Division in Santa Fe where we requested a 'right to sue' in July," Tinkler said in an earlier interview, adding that the Human Rights Division issued 'right to sue' letters individually to each woman between July and mid-August.

Tinkler filed suit on behalf of the former employees Sept. 9 in Tierra Amarilla District Court. The suit charges White Rock United Methodist Church, Horizons Preschool and Daycare, its board of directors, and Tanski with violation of the New Mexico Human Rights Act, defamation/false light, intentional infliction of emotional distress, assault and battery, wrongful termination/retaliatory discharge, negligent infliction of emotional distress, negligent supervision and retention.

Attorney Jeff Lowery of Santa Fe is representing the church and Tanski in this case.

The Rev. Gary Seelau, pastor of White Rock United Methodist Church, said in a voice message to the Monitor, "We are just looking toward running a quality program and with everything we do, we try to improve the quality of that program."