Arbitration Decision Does Not Preclude Discrimination Lawsuit

When Cecilia Baldazo was fired from her job as a deputy sheriff for Elko County, Nevada, she filed a federal court lawsuit alleging that she was the victim of discrimination on the basis of her gender and her sexual orientation. The State raised the defense that since Baldazo had challenged her discharge in arbitration, and had lost, the arbitration decision should be res judicata and require the dismissal of the federal lawsuit.

The Court found that the arbitration result did not preclude the lawsuit. The Court found that “Baldazo’s arbitral decision has been confirmed by a state court. Therefore, this Court is required to accord the decision the same preclusive effect as a Nevada state court would.

“Baldazo’s arbitration does not preclude this Court from addressing her discrimination claims. First, the CBA excepts violations of its non-discrimination provision – and violations of federal anti-discrimination law – from the arbiter’s authority. The City argues that Baldazo waived her right to have a court hear her discrimination claims by raising the issue of discrimination in arbitration. This argument fails too. Indeed, the Arbiter recognized his limited authority throughout his findings, noting that ‘the Impartial Arbitrator’s review with regard to any claim of alleged discrimination visited upon Baldazo is limited to whether there was just cause for her termination from employment.’ The Arbiter was without power to decide Baldazo’s discrimination claims, whether or not she raised them in arbitration.”

Baldazo victory was short-lived. Turning to the merits of Baldazo’s discrimination claims, the Court concluded that “assuming Baldazo’s Complaint states a prima facie case of gender-based employment discrimination, the City has produced evidence of legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for Baldazo’s termination, and Baldazo has failed to produce any evidence in rebuttal. For example, the City has produced unrebutted evidence that Baldazo was insubordinate (for failing to wear her uniform) and untruthful (for lying to her superiors). In response, Baldazo is silent. Baldazo has therefore failed to provide specific and substantial evidence of pretext creating a genuine issue of material fact with respect to her discrimination claims.”

Baldazo v. Elko County, 2013 WL 5201091 (D. Nev. 2013).