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April 29, 2019

LAS CRUCES, NM - Today, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of New Mexico and cooperating attorney Rachel Higgins filed a lawsuit against the Third Judicial District Attorney’s office on behalf of three former female assistant district attorneys who endured rampant sex discrimination, harassment, and retaliation, and who were suspended after refusing to remove “No Mansplaining” signs from their doors. In the complaint, Cassandra Brulotte, Kelly Rossi, and Rebecca Duffin allege the DA’s office violated the Fair Pay Act for Women, the Whistleblower Protection Act, and the New Mexico Constitution’s Free Speech Clause.

“Our clients experienced the kind of sexism, harassment, and retaliation that women around the country face every day in the workplace,” said ACLU of New Mexico staff attorney María Martínez Sánchez. “We look forward to obtaining justice for our clients at a critical moment when our country is reckoning with the reality of enduring and pervasive sexual harassment and abuse.”

During their tenures as attorneys, all three women were paid less and promoted less often than male counterparts, despite handling similar or, at times, more difficult cases. Management also required them to adhere to sexist stereotypes, including making Rossi take part in a high-profile murder trial because they wanted a “pretty, young attorney” at the table and demanding Brulotte begin smiling at and saying hi to every employee she passed in the hall to raise office morale. When the attorney’s raised concerns with Human Resources about instances of sexism, they faced retaliation.

“I didn’t walk around smiling all of the time because I was dealing with gender discrimination and 400 domestic violence and sexual assault cases, many of which were extremely upsetting,” said Brulotte.  “No male colleague I spoke with was ever asked to smile more.”

In June of 2018, Chief Deputy District Attorney Gerald Byers ordered Brulotte, Rossi, and Duffin to remove their “No Mansplaining” signs from their doors, claiming the statement was “sexist against men” and violated office policy. After the women refused to give up their First Amendment right to speak out on matters of personal and public concern, he suspended them. Within a month of their suspension, the office terminated Brulotte and Duffin. No longer able to work in such toxic conditions, Rossi resigned.  

“We’re bringing this lawsuit not just because of the injustice we faced, but for the community of Doña Ana County,” said Rossi.  “If the DA’s office can inflict so much harm on its own female staff members, how can we trust it to obtain justice for the countless female victims of domestic and sexual violence the office serves?  The community deserves to be represented by attorneys who respect and value women and who are passionate about promoting gender equity and justice.”

A copy of the complaint is available below: