Navajo Woman Sues Zuni School District for Alleged Discrimination

Published June 11, 2017

ALBUQUERQUE – Olivia Joe filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Albuquerque last week against the Zuni Public School District claiming she discrimination against because she is Navajo.

Joe said she joined the school district in August 2015 as a second grade teacher.

“Beginning in August, 2016,” her lawsuit states, “and continuing throughout her employment, she was harassed and given different terms and conditions of employment.”

In August, 2016, the suit claims the school district permitted a first grade teacher who is not Navajo to do union business during school hours. But Joe, who is one of the few Navajos employed by the school district,  “was wrongly harassed by this same first-grade teacher for having a meeting about her internship that she assume was union related.”

Another incident occurred when Joe’s grandparents visited her classroom this past February to inform her of a recent death in the family.

In the complaint, Joe states: “We were in the middle of a traditional Navajo prayer when Mildred Lementino, a first grade teacher who is an enrolled member of the Zuni Tribe, entered the classroom and stated, ‘You can’t be praying. You need to stop that. This is a Zuni school with zuni children. You need to leave.’”

The lawsuit alleges that the school district allows Zuni employees to say Zuni traditional prayers in the school without being harassed.

Joe said she reported this incident to school officials, who said it would be addressed, but it never was.  Joe said she feels that there are two standards for employees.

“Zuni prayers may be openly spoken; Navajo prayers will cause you to be asked to leave the school,” the lawsuit said.

Joe added that throughout her employment, she has been the victim of derogatory remarks by Zuni employees about her race and religion.

She said she has witnessed several instances of discrimination by Zunis working at the school against non-Zunis.

“Those instances have contributed to the overall feeling that this was a hostile work environment for non-Zunis, especially Navajos,” the lawsuit stated.

According to the suit, Joe is still employed by the school district.

Editor’s Note: This article published in the Navajo Times. Used with permission. All rights reserved.


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