Two employees at the Santa Fe County Clerk’s Office are at the center of a federal lawsuit that alleges discrimination and violence.
But it’s not former professional boxer Jayla Ortiz who’s accused of getting physical. She’s the alleged victim.
A US District Court case filed by Ortiz’ lawyer last week raises the charge that longtime clerk employee Esther Artino pushed Ortiz down a flight of stairs and left her unconscious without help for nearly an hour.
It was in January 2013 that Artino, the lawsuit says, ordered Ortiz to “collect over forty 10-pound boxes containing documents and ordered Ortiz to shred them.” Court documents claim Artino pushed Ortiz from behind, causing her to tumble to the bottom of a staircase in the County Administration Building and resulting in injuries to her head, ankle and finger.
“Instead of reporting the incident,” the complaint states, “Ms. Artino left Ortiz at the bottom of the stairs, unconscious. She was found approximately an hour later by a co-worker. She had lost consciousness and all she remembered next is waking up in the ambulance.”
Ortiz’ lawsuit alleges that even before that incident, the county discriminated against her on the basis of her gender and sexual orientation. She also says the county failed to take action when she told superiors about the problem.
The lawsuit charges the county and Artino with negligence and retaliation. Neither Artino or Santa Fe County spokeswoman Kristine Mihelcic would comment on the allegations. Mihelcic says Artino has worked in the clerk’s office since 1993 and earns $23.51 an hour as a records manager. Ortiz has worked as a recorder in the clerk’s office since 2004, with a current salary of $15.54 an hour.
But she’s perhaps better known as a featherweight boxing star whose career brought her across the country and in front of the cameras of national cable networks like ESPN. Her attorney, Jesse Jacobus III, tells SFR Ortiz hasn’t competitively boxed since 2005, including sparring.
The same year the clerk’s office hired Ortiz, she lost in a 10-round bout for the World Featherweight championship of the International Female Boxers Association, according to the Women’s Boxing Archive Network, which describes her as a 120-pound natural southpaw who graduated from Capital High School in 1997. That’s the same year Ortiz debuted in her first pro match, winning on a technical knockout in the second round in an Albuquerque fight.
After leaving competitive boxing, according to the lawsuit, Ortiz’ body continued to endure physical blows outside the ring.
According to the lawsuit, in March 2011, Ortiz returned to work on “light duty” following a car accident. Ortiz, the lawsuit states, complained the work Artino ordered her to undertake was hurting her back, ankle, shoulder and neck, and when she asked Artino why a man couldn’t do the work, Artino responded, “You act like a man, so just get it done.” The lawsuit states, “As an alternative theory, if Ms. Artino did not intentionally push [Ortiz] down the stairs, she negligently bumped her.”
The lawsuit alleges that Ortiz experienced “discriminatory and hostile” behavior from Artino, who made comments about Ortiz’s sexual orientation and gender.
“‘You gay people always want the same rights,’” Artino allegedly told Ortiz. “This comment embarrassed and humiliated Ortiz,” the lawsuit alleges, “as it was said in the presence of customers.”
The complaint states that Ortiz reported the incident to County Clerk Geraldine Salazar and to human resources in an email, and that she earlier took the problem to former Clerk Valerie Espinoza, whose discussions with Artino would cause the treatment to “stop for a short period of time then begin again.” Salazar began her four-year term as the county clerk in January 2013.
Ortiz says she has been unable to return to work and remains on medical leave, according to the complaint, which seeks damages for lost wages, lost future wages and awards for emotional, mental and psychological distress, along with attorneys fees and costs.