Lawsuit: Harlandale officer says she was discriminated against after refusing chief’s repeated invites to hang off duty

Chief Michael Ramirez told officer she ‘had things to do with her children’ when she expressed interest in applying for promotion, suit claims

An officer with the Harlandale Independent School District Police Department said she was denied promotions and placed in danger on the job after refusing repeated invites from the chief to hang out at his property off duty, federal court records obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders show.

SAN ANTONIO – An officer with the Harlandale Independent School District Police Department said she was denied promotions and placed in danger on the job after refusing repeated invites from the chief to hang out at his property off duty, federal court records obtained by the KSAT 12 Defenders show.

The lawsuit filed by Harlandale ISD police officer Linda James claims that her civil rights were violated by Harlandale PD Chief Michael Ramirez. It also claims James was denied a promotion because she is a mother.

The suit, which seeks more than $50,000 in damages, was moved from state district court to federal court shortly after it was filed in December, records show.

“Unfortunately, it seems as if the professionalism from the top-down has been lost,” said Jason J. Jakob, an employment attorney representing James who agreed to speak about the pending lawsuit after the Defenders were tipped off to it earlier this year.

Attorneys representing the district have filed a motion to dismiss the case.

Mariana Veraza, a district spokesperson, said federal regulators “investigated the employee’s allegations of discrimination and retaliation” and “determined that it was unable to conclude that the information obtained in its investigation established violations of federal civil rights laws.”

James, a licensed peace officer with close to 15 years of law enforcement experience, has worked for Harlandale PD since 2015, state records confirm.

She was invited several times by Ramirez and a Harlandale PD sergeant, identified as Maria Aguilar, to hang out with them at Ramirez’s land near the Medina River, according to the suit.

“(James) has always politely refused which led to her being accused of not being a team player. So much so that she had to make it very clear that she does not date, go out with, nor involve herself romantically with anyone she works with,” the suit states.

“If you’re in a position of power and you’re literally sitting there and trying to date or fraternize with your employees, obviously that leads to contempt within the department itself, not only among the leadership, but among the police officers that are there,” said Jakob.

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Lack of a promotion

The suit claims in August 2018 James expressed interest in promoting to the rank of corporal.

Instead of posting the position publicly for 10 days, as district policy required, Ramirez told staff to email him if they were interested, the suit states.

When James spoke to Ramirez about wanting to apply he, “did his best to discharge her by telling her it would require more of her time, adding ‘I was a mother’ and had things to do with her children,” the suit claims.

The comments from Ramirez left James “in complete shock,” according to the suit.

Harlandale ISD's McCollum High School. (KSAT)

Days later, after James sent a follow-up email to Ramirez in which she still expressed interest in the promotion, she was told by Aguilar that she was being reassigned to a post at McCollum High School.

After James told a district Human Resources representative that she was not allowed to interview for the position and that Ramirez did not respond to her email expressing interest in the promotion, the HR employee told her there was nothing he could do because of certain alliances between Ramirez and the then-superintendent, according to the suit.

While James, for a time, was given access to a police golf cart to transport her equipment and patrol the grounds of the high school, the suit claims the vehicle was taken away by Ramirez and moved to a district football stadium more than two miles away.

“I had to walk back to the Police Department from my assigned post with all my belongings (gear bag, book bag, rain jacket, lunch bag) in hand. This was extremely frightening to me, since my hands were completely occupied, I was in full gear/uniform, and completely exposed,” the suit claims.

The lawsuit claims the golf cart given to James to help patrol McCollum High School was taken away by orders of the chief. (KSAT)

Since last summer, James has been assigned to an overnight shift.

Jakob pointed out those hours are typically given to rookie officers.

Harlandale ISD Police Department headquarters. (KSAT)

“It seems as if he does whatever he wants to without any regard to policy or HR policy or departmental policy or CLEAT policy. And so that becomes a major issues,” said Jakob, referring to Ramirez, who has served as the district’s police chief since 2013.

Harlandale ISD officials this month refused to make Ramirez available for an interview.

Veraza, the district spokesperson, wrote: “Harlandale Independent School District has been sued by an employee. Because all parties are entitled to the selection of a fair and impartial jury, it is the District’s practice not to comment extensively or to provide interviews regarding pending litigation.”

District officials at first refused to say how many officers work for its police department.

After this story was posted online, Veraza confirmed via email the department has 26 officers and five dispatchers.

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About the Authors:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined the KSAT 12 Defenders in 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.

Joshua Saunders is an Emmy award-winning photographer/editor who has worked in the San Antonio market for the past 20 years. Joshua works in the Defenders unit, covering crime and corruption throughout the city.