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A lawsuit alleging that women employed by the city of Albuquerque have been paid less than their male counterparts has been certified for class action status.
Second Judicial District Court Judge Clay Campbell noted the decision in a July 24 letter. The city of Albuquerque is named as the defendant.
Five women are named as plaintiffs, “but we think there are about 1,300 class members,” plaintiffs’ attorney Alexandra Freedman Smith said Monday. “So this has been a widespread, systemic problem that the city of Albuquerque has of paying women less than men in violation of the New Mexico Fair Pay for Women Act,” which was signed into law in 2013.
The Albuquerque City Attorney’s Office issued a statement Monday saying that while it can’t comment on ongoing litigation, “Mayor (Tim) Keller has been at the forefront of the pay equity fight in New Mexico for years, including leading the first statewide study of pay equity while at the State Auditor’s Office, and he will continue to advance fairness at the city.”
Smith acknowledged that the problem was brought to the city’s attention under the previous administration, but said Keller, who took office in December 2017, “ran as a progressive candidate and this widespread discrimination of female workers is anything but progressive. Not only is it wrong, but it is illegal.”
News of the expansion of the lawsuit comes just as the city is getting ready to hold a virtual celebration honoring the 100-year anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which guarantees and protects the constitutional right for women to vote in the United States. The live event will air Wednesday, from 4-7 p.m. on GOV-TV, Comcast channel 16, as well as www.facebook.com/OneABQMedia.
According to the lawsuit – filed in 2018 and amended in 2019 – depending on how the jobs are classified, the women are paid from $3 an hour to $6 an hour less than their male counterparts who perform the same functions, and the women have often been in the jobs longer than their male counterparts.
Four of the plaintiffs, Cindy Pino, Genevieve Sandoval, Cathy Saavedra and Elizabeth Finley, work as evidence technicians for the Albuquerque Police Department; the fifth plaintiff, Michaela Silva, is a Sun Van driver.
“Our clients went to the city in 2016 and brought it to their attention informally that they were suffering wage discrimination,” Smith said. “Then, when the city did nothing to remedy that, they went to the New Mexico Human Rights Bureau and the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) and filed complaints. Both the Human Rights Bureau and the EEOC found that they had viable claims. The city still did nothing, so, in 2018, they were forced to file this lawsuit.”
Smith said she is asking that plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit be awarded immediate raises, back pay from 2013 when the New Mexico Fair Pay for Women Act went into effect, overtime that they may have earned but recalculated for the higher pay they should have earned, and recalculated retirement pay where applicable because the city calculates retirement based on the three highest earning years of a person’s employment.
It further asks for “reasonable attorneys’ fees, experts’ fees, and costs.”
The virtual commemoration of women’s right to vote will be hosted by Jessica Helen Lopez, City of Albuquerque poet laureate emeritus. It will include performances by spoken word artists, musicians and dancers. Among those who will be featured are 18-year-old women from across the state and tribal lands who will be voting for the first time.
Featured speakers will include U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland; U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small; Pamelya Herndon, CEO of KWH Law Center for Social Justice and Change; and Albuquerque City Councilor Diane Gibson.