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The Mercedes school district’s former superintendent — who was arrested over allegations she interfered in a police investigation — has filed a federal lawsuit alleging the district violated the Equal Pay Act by underpaying her because she is a woman.
Carlyn Mendiola’s attorney, John Shergold, filed the lawsuit in McAllen federal court on Wednesday.
Mendiola, 53, was the superintendent there for approximately three years. She resigned from her position on May 18, 2022 — nine days after she was accused of interfering in a Mercedes police investigation as officers arrested Mercedes High School teacher Frank Fuentes on a charge of improper relationship between an educator and a student.
Fuentes is accused of having a romantic relationship with a student that included sexually explicit messages and improper physical contact such as hugging and kissing.
Mendiola wasn’t arrested until June 3. She has denied the charges and attorney and state Rep. Terry Canales, who is representing her in that case, previously told The Monitor that the arrest was politically motivated.
A search of Hidalgo County court records on Thursday afternoon did not return a result for indictments against either Mendiola or Fuentes.
Mendiola’s federal lawsuit does not mention the criminal allegations against her.
The eight-page petition, however, does lay out pay discrepancy allegations and says that board member Pedro Martinez III would humiliate and harass her.
As for her May 18, 2022 resignation, Mendiola said her working conditions became intolerable.
That document also said that she learned on Oct. 14, 2021 through a Texas Association of School Board report that she was paid $25,000 less than other superintendents within the Region One Education Service Center, which encompasses the Rio Grande Valley.
“Defendant’s school board treated Plaintiff differently based upon her gender (female) than two male superintendents,” the lawsuit states.
That document said that former Superintendent Daniel Trevino made $50,000 more than she did, which included travel expenses and a car allowance.
Richard Rivera, who replaced Mendiola as interim before taking the superintendent position for the Weslaco school district, received a $1,000 car allowance per month that she did not receive, according to the lawsuit.
“After Plaintiff was put on notice on October 14, 2021, that her wages were less than what superintendents were earning in Region One, Plaintiff began to question her low pay for doing the same work as a male superintendent within Defendant’s district,” the lawsuit stated.
On March 1, 2022, George McShan, a well-known consultant and former board member with the Harlingen school district, made a presentation to the school board that made it clear to the board that Mendiola was being underpaid, according to the lawsuit.
That document said that Mendiola showed the school board the report that indicated she was being underpaid.
“Plaintiff learned in the report that a comparable school district within Region One was paying its male superintendent $200,000.00 while Plaintiff was making $160,000.00 dollars,” the lawsuit stated.
While Trevino, her predecessor, made nearly $200,000 with travel and car allowances, Rivera previously told The Monitor that he had taken a $40,000 pay cut as a courtesy to the Mercedes school board, according to the lawsuit.
“Rivera admitted that the salary Plaintiff was making as superintendent, ‘Was very low for a 5-A, School.’ Furthermore, Rivera in the news article stated he received a car allowance as part of his contract,” the lawsuit stated.
Mendiola said she never received a car allowance.
“Defendant attempted to equalize the low wage of Plaintiff by requesting Rivera as a ‘Courtesy’ to accept Plaintiff’s yearly wage of $160,000.00 dollars per year, knowing that an employer cannot lower the wages of an employee such as Rivera, to make the wages equal to cure a Equal Pay Act violation,” the lawsuit stated. “Additionally, both former Superintendent Trevino and Rivera who replaced Plaintiff were receiving a car allowance while Plaintiff did not that (sic) is also included as wages.
“Unequivocally, both male superintendents were treated differently than Plaintiff who is female that had substantially equal job descriptions that required the same skill, effort and responsibility,” the lawsuit stated.
Mendiola’s lawsuit also alleges that Martinez, the board member, humiliated her with verbal insults and unfounded accusations intended to humiliate and harass her.
“Trustee Martinez would possess personal information as to the whereabouts of Plaintiff while off duty on private property that was harassing and humiliating,” the lawsuit stated. “Martinez accused Plaintiff of drinking alcoholic beverages at a colleagues residence while off duty, and even accused Plaintiff of wrongdoing by attending a birthday function for another colleague at a local restaurant establishment.”
She said in the lawsuit that Martinez even yelled at her on school property and accused her of drinking in front of school district employees and board members, which embarrassed her.
“Martinez’s humiliating behavior concerning Plaintiff’s alleged drinking was discussed in front of board members at its regular meetings,” the lawsuit stated. “Plaintiff denied Martinez’s accusations and stated to him to stop his harassment.”
The lawsuit also indicates that at one point Mendiola — accidentally, she says — called police on Martinez.
“Martinez belittled Plaintiff for calling the local police authority regarding an individual wandering on school campus that was unidentified,” the lawsuit stated. “The individual unbeknownst to Plaintiff was Martinez who then accused Plaintiff (of) calling the police intentionally on him that was untrue.”
Mendiola alleges Martinez harassed her until she resigned.
FINAL BOARD MEETING
The last straw, Mendiola says, was a May 17, 2022 board meeting where she claims the board majority ordered her to move students to an administrative building that had serious issues.
“Plaintiff was aware by the architectural and engineering firm Raba Kistner that the roofing on the administrative building was substandard and needing an entire new roof in order to meet safety standards to house students,” the release stated.
That building had plumbing problems, communication system deficiencies used for emergency communication and cafeteria problems under standards set by the Texas Department of Agriculture, according to the lawsuit.
“The board majority that consisted of trustees Oscar Hernandez, Pedro Martinez, III, Eddie Howell and Lucy Delgado, ordered Plaintiff to approve the housing of students into the building that was unsafe for the children to occupy,” the lawsuit stated. “The board majority would badger Plaintiff for approximately 4 months on moving students into an unsafe building until the date of Plaintiff’s constructive discharge on May 18, 2022.”
Mendiola says she was humiliated at a public meeting for not agreeing or recommending to the majority to move students into the administrative building without having repairs completed.
“Plaintiff had asked the board majority to extend more time for the necessary repairs, however the board voted against Plaintiff’s recommendations,” the lawsuit stated.
As of late Thursday afternoon, the Mercedes school district had not filed a response and no hearing dates have been scheduled.