A federal jury awarded Vivian Martinez $80,000 Tuesday in her lawsuit against Tucumcari Police Chief Dennis Townsend and the Tucumcari Police Department. Martinez claimed she was denied a job with the police department due to her previous employment as an exotic dancer.
Martinez said the jury award was a victory for women.
“What it is all about for me is setting a foundation for women to stand on when they apply for an $8.50 per hour job,” said Martinez. “During the course of the trial I was portrayed as a person wanting money. Money was not the issue.”
According to court documents, the judge in the case ruled that Martinez’ exotic dancing was “protected speech.” The jury determined that Martinez’ exotic dancing was a “motivating or substantial factor” in the department’s decision not to hire her.
The jury did not find that Martinez was discriminated against on the basis of her gender. Paul Baker, of the Linda G. Hemphill law firm which represented Martinez, said the firm may seek a settlement with the city in regard to possible gender discrimination.
Chief Townsend said he cannot comment on the case at this time. “Our attorney, Timothy Hale, will be sending a letter to City Manager Richard Primrose that will explain everything. After Mr. Primrose examines the letter I will be able to comment,” said Townsend. “I still don’t think we’ve done anything wrong.”
Primrose was not pleased with the verdict.
“I feel that the woman was not qualified for the job, based on the recommendations of the police department’s evaluations committee,” said Primrose. “I support Chief Townsend.” Primrose said he will consult with the city’s attorney. “We are going to look at our hiring procedures and talk to our attorney to see if anything is lacking,” said Primrose. “We are going to make sure everything is correct.”
Martinez was an exotic dancer in Albuquerque seven years prior to applying to the police department. Martinez claimed that two Tucumcari Police officers visited the show club where she danced. Martinez said when she applyed to the police department in 2001, those officers recognized her as a former exotic dancer.
Martinez went to the New Mexico Human Rights Division with her complaints. Baker said former City Attorney Michelle Reeves sent a response to the human rights division.
“Michelle Reeves mentioned the words “exotic dancer” in her response,” said Baker. “Her response went on to say that ‘It (exotic dancing) raised the question as to whether the candidate could be certifiable with regard to the requirement that a candidate be of good moral character.’ “
Baker said the city’s mistake was to make an issue of Martinez’ exotic dancing because exotic dancing is a protected form of expression. Reeves said she did her best at the time to represent the city. “Anytime you give legal advice, you do the best you can,” said Reeves. “I don’t think exotic dancing was an issue the way the jury interpreted it as being an issue.”