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APS to pay $175K to settle Brooks retaliation lawsuit

Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal

Albuquerque Public Schools will pay a middle school principal $175,000 to end a 4-year-old lawsuit over claims of retaliation by former superintendent Winston Brooks.

Michael Bachicha – formerly the principal of Sandia High School and now principal of Lyndon B. Johnson Middle School – was awarded $175,000 in the settlement reached Wednesday, according to his attorney, Pia Gallegos.

BROOKS: Board paid him $350,000 to leave job (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

BROOKS: Board paid him $350,000 to leave job (Marla Brose/Albuquerque Journal)

The school board’s decision to fire Brooks in August moved the settlement forward.

“Mr. Bachicha settled his actions … now that the board terminated the employment of former superintendent Winston Brooks,” Gallegos said.

Bachicha is confident he will now be fairly considered for promotions and so will women, which he didn’t believe was the case under Brooks’ leadership, Gallegos said.

District spokesman Rigo Chavez on Thursday confirmed a settlement had been reached for $175,000, which he said included court costs and attorney fees.

Last week, the other plaintiff in the same case, Susan Stanojevic, reached an undisclosed settlement with the district. Chavez said Thursday that he could not release the amount of that settlement because of a confidentiality agreement.

In the lawsuit, Stanojevic and Bachicha said Brooks demoted them after Stanojevic filed a complaint with the district’s Office of Equal Opportunity after Brooks said she had “slept her way to the top.”

The district argued in court documents that the demotions were made over performance issues.

In May 2009, Brooks, then-Assistant Superintendent Eddie Soto and Sandia principal Bachicha met to discuss complaints made against Bachicha and Stanojevic, according to court documents.

Brooks repeated a rumor during the meeting that Stanojevic had an affair with former APS Superintendent Brad Allison, then made the “slept her way to the top” comment. Brooks later said in a deposition that his comments were “inappropriate.”

After the meeting, Bachicha relayed the comment to Stanojevic, who filed the in-house complaint, which was later dismissed.

In June 2009, Bachicha was moved to principal of Lyndon B. Johnson Middle School, a position that came with a lower salary.

And in August 2009, Stanojevic was transferred to Eldorado High School as an assistant principal for buildings and grounds where she kept her previous salary, although she had been a curriculum official. She is now a principal in the Los Lunas School District.

APS conducted an investigation of Bachicha’s performance at Sandia, which the district argues was the basis for his demotion. As for Stanojevic, APS said she failed to get along with Sandia’s new principal.

In March, U.S. District Judge M. Christina Armijo dismissed a motion for summary judgment that would have ended the suit in APS’s favor.

Armijo did grant summary judgment on one claim in the suit, in which Stanojevic argued it was retaliation when she was denied promotions to open principal positions in APS. Armijo wrote Stanojevic didn’t have enough evidence to make that claim.

In other cases involving Brooks, a judge in 2013 dismissed a suit made by three APS principals who claimed they were unfairly demoted.

There is also an ongoing case involving Ruby Ethridge, a former APS associate superintendent. Ethridge filed a civil rights suit against APS and Brooks, arguing she was demoted after complaining that Brooks “treated woman with disdain.”

The APS board fired Brooks in August and agreed to pay him a lump sum of $350,000 to buy out the two remaining years on his contract. The board has refused to release details on why it took the action.