Finance Director Gregoria Jackson filed a lawsuit against the city of La Joya last week, claiming the City Council fired her for political reasons — and violated her First Amendment rights.
Gregoria Jackson filed the lawsuit against the city, former Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas, former City Councilwoman Anna Lisa Ruiz and City Councilwoman Mary Salinas on July 29.
The City Council fired Gregoria Jackson in 2019, when members abruptly decided that La Joya didn’t need a finance director.
“Ms. Jackson was fired due to political retaliation under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution because her brother, the former City Attorney Roberto Jackson, supported the former Police Chief Isidro Casanova instead of the then current Mayor Jose A. ‘Fito’ Salinas,” according to the lawsuit. “The City of La Joya acting by and through Mayor Jose A. ‘Fito’ Salinas and the Defendant Commissioners abruptly fired Gregoria Jackson and had a policewoman escort her from the building.”
Attorney Carlos E. Hernandez Jr. of McAllen, who represents Gregoria Jackson, didn’t respond to requests for comment.
City Manager Jacqueline Bazan said La Joya provided a copy of the lawsuit to the Texas Municipal League, which may contract with a law firm to represent the city.
La Joya hired Gregoria Jackson in April 2013, according to a copy of her personnel file released under the Texas Public Information Act.
She had “stellar job performance,” according to the lawsuit, and had never been disciplined. In July 2019, though, Gregoria Jackson found herself without a job.
“This letter is to inform you that your employment with the City of La Joya will end as of today, July 29, 2019,” according to her termination letter. “You have been terminated because the position of ‘Finance Director’ is being eliminated at the City of La Joya. This decision is not reversible.”
The letter didn’t explain why La Joya eliminated the position or how the city would function without a finance director.
“City employees cannot be hired or fired based on who they support or are perceived to support politically, and this termination is in violation of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” according to the lawsuit.
Five months after La Joya fired her, Casanova defeated Fito Salinas in a runoff election. Gregoria Jackson got her job back. And her brother, Roberto Jackson, became the city attorney.
Fito Salinas, meanwhile, was indicted on federal wire fraud charges. He pleaded guilty last month and faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison.
The lawsuit claims La Joya violated Gregoria Jackson’s civil rights, including her rights to free speech and association.
It demands that La Joya compensate her for actual damages, injury to her reputation and character, lost earnings and diminished earning capacity, and past and future mental anguish.
The lawsuit also requests exemplary damages to “deter such cruel and undignified procedures by the Defendants in the future.”
The case was assigned to U.S. District Judge Ricardo Hinojosa. An initial conference is scheduled for Oct. 6.