A federal appeals court has reversed the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by Lisa Calderón against Mayor Michael Hancock and other Denver officials, sending it back down to a lower court.
“Now Ms. Calderón can go in and prove that the city retaliated against a contractor who was providing an invaluable service to city residents because she dared to speak out against discrimination and injustice," says Trish Bangert, the lawyer representing Calderón, a political foe of the mayor, in her lawsuit.
In April 2018, Calderón, the current chief of staff for Councilwoman Candi CdeBaca and a 2019 candidate for mayor of Denver, filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court of Colorado against Hancock and other city officials, alleging that she'd lost a city contract because of gender discrimination and her criticism of the Hancock administration.
Calderón's original complaint focused on the city's Transition From Jail to Community program, designed to help inmates assimilate back into society after their release. Calderón ran the program for ten years, from 2007 until the end of 2017, when her organization, the Community Re-Entry Program, wasn't renewed for the half-million-dollar contract following a competitive bidding process.
In September 2019, District Court Judge Philip A. Brimmer dismissed the complaint, saying that Calderón wasn't employed directly by the city but instead worked for an organization that contracted with the city. The alleged injury was suffered by the organization and not Calderón directly, Brimmer determined.
Calderón and Bangert appealed Brimmer's ruling regarding Calderón's lack of standing, and a panel of three judges from the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ended up reversing the ruling in a March 30 decision.
"Because Calderón's complaint alleges a direct relationship between her damages flowing from the loss of the contract to administer the [Transition From Jail to Community program], the district court erred in dismissing the complaint on the basis of a lack of prudential standing," the three-judge panel wrote on March 30.
"The decision was a victory for Ms. Calderón and the citizens of Denver," Bangert says.
City officials have denied the assertions made in the original complaint and characterized Calderón as "an upset contractor who was not selected through a competitive bidding process." However, the Denver City Attorney's Office won't be challenging the appeals court ruling. "We respect the 10th Circuit’s decision on this procedural issue. The City Attorney’s Office will reserve any further comment on the merits of its defenses for presentation to the trial court," says mayoral spokesperson Mike Strott, speaking on behalf of the office because of a press contact vacancy there.
The continuation of the legal proceedings between Calderón and Hancock represents just the latest chapter in a tense relationship between the two political figures. Calderón ran against Hancock in the heated May 2019 mayoral race, eventually finishing third. That summer, she joined the staff of newly elected council representative CdeBaca, who has been a consistent opponent of many of Hancock's policies in his final term as mayor.