Martinez files discrimination charge against Richfield Schools

A former Richfield STEM School outreach worker has officially charged the district with discriminatory practices, filing her claims with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.

Jessica Martinez filed the charge July 14, according to documents she provided to the Sun Current.

Having filed the charge, Martinez spoke out during an Aug. 8 Richfield School Board meeting, proclaiming her legal plans. “I will be suing Richfield Public Schools,” Martinez said, later explaining to the Sun Current she was referring to the charge filed with the Department of Human Rights.

The proclamation of a lawsuit prompted Board Chair Christine Maleck to announce the district had already brought in an independent party to review the allegations. Martinez and her supporters had been requesting an investigation since she was fired in May, but the review has been halted due to Martinez’s statement about a lawsuit, according to Maleck.

“At the forefront of my downward spiral is the negative pressure received from the district as a response to a group organizing an opportunity for staff members to wear Black Lives Matter attire,” Martinez summarized while speaking during the public comment period of the school board’s Aug. 21 meeting.

Her effort to organize the Black Lives Matter T-shirt plans, which were intended to mark Martin Luther King Day, led to months of harassment and her eventual termination in May, Martinez alleges. During her Aug. 21 comments, Martinez again exhorted the district to assign an outside investigator to the matter.

At the end of the same meeting, Maleck referred to Martinez’s declaration of a lawsuit as the board chair stated, “We had previous to this already initiated our own independent review of the matter. As a result of the legal action, we’ve been advised to place that process on hold. And we will be following the established legal process now for addressing the actions pursued by Ms. Martinez.”

Responding to a request from the Sun Current, the district cited legal reasons in refraining from further comment.

According to the formal charge, Martinez claims she was the victim of reprisal after organizing the T-shirt plans.

The reprisals involved “micromanaging” during several conflicts. Those, according to the charge, included a dispute with a fellow staff member over the treatment of a student, the use of sick time as vacation time that Martinez said was a common practice for people in her position, and an accusation that she interfered with the hiring of a new principal.

Martinez says that throughout her tenure at STEM School, she had complained of students of color being inappropriately disciplined and suspended. She states she also complained that certain staff members were selecting white students above students of color to participate in gifted-and-talented programming, an accusation she claims was substantiated during a peer review process.

Martinez adds she had complained about inappropriate comments from staff members regarding students’ hair texture, wearing of a hijab and inability to shake hands due to their religion.

Further, the district had also taken adverse action against 13 staff members who had also planned to wear the Black Lives Matter T-Shirts, Martinez’s charge states.

One possible outcome of the charge is mediation, according to a department letter sent to Martinez. Another potential course of action, the letter states, is to assign a human rights enforcement officer to the case.

The Department of Human Rights’ acceptance of a charge does not mean a violation has occurred or that a decision was made, according to the department’s correspondence with Martinez. The department is considered a neutral party in an investigation.

Follow Andrew Wig on Twitter @RISunCurrent.