Nicoya

City of Nicoya Must Pay Fired Official $210,500 After Six Years of Appeals

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Adrián Rojas Herrera wore his Sunday best for this interview: a faded green shirt and pants two sizes too big. He doesn’t have much left after waging a legal battle against the City of Nicoya, which fired him in 2013 and must now pay him $210,500, courts have ruled.

The former official took a job in 2011 as the head of the planning department, where he worked until 2013 when the city fired him because of “internal restructuring.” Before his termination, the official earned $1,750 per month.

Rojas decided to appeal his case because he believed the city had fired him illegally. He was never told about the restructuring despite being the head of city planning and his firing wasn’t due to a lack of funds or the need to improve public service.

A claims court ruled in his favor in 2015. The city appealed the ruling, but the court upheld its decision in 2017 and again in 2019. In its rulings, the court ordered the city to reinstate Rojas and pay him the money he would have made had he not lost his job.

In total, the city appealed three times. The first appeal was filed by mayor Marco Jiménez in 2015, claiming that there wasn’t enough money in the budget to pay Rojas’s salary and that his position no longer existed.

The second and third appeals were filed by a city legal representative and deputy mayor Adriana Rodríguez. Both documents, which are practically identical, accuse the court of omitting the fact that Rojas had not filed an administrative case since it is a city issue.

The court rejected the appeal, concluding the City didn’t provide administrative proceedings for Rojas to follow until two years after the first ruling in his favor.

“The official should not have to suffer administrative delays that derive him of his constitutional right to a speedy trial,” the court said in its ruling.

But the city was able to delay implementation of the ruling for at least four years

A viacrucis 

He entered the city via an open hiring process for the planning office. He was the best qualified of all applicants, which mayor Marco Jiménez recognized in a letter written in 2011 to the human resources department. The document is included in the case file, of which this newspaper obtained a copy.

Rojas, among other things, directed and advised city planning and development at city hall. He also drafted the Annual Operating Plan (PAO).

He conducted his duties until Jiménez told him via a letter on November 29, 2013 that he would be let go as of January 1, 2014. The mayor justified the decision by citing a “restructuring of internal positions due to multiple needs at city hall” and said that Adrián’s positions was one of the most affected.

In 2015, the mayor spoke to this newspaper about Rojas. At the time, he said the decision to eliminate the planning position was “because the work we required wasn’t getting done,” and the decision was part of the new organizational structure at city hall.

“We have been restructuring since 2011 and the process has given rise to a new organizational structure, which is more logical and has been recognized by the Comptroller General,” Jiménez said.

In its resolution, the claims court was emphatic in stating that the City never proved the restructuring happened due to a lack of funds or was designed to optimize public service, the only reasons to fire someone.

The resolution says only two positions were eliminated: Rojas’s and an internal control position, which was also part of the planning department. The city never reopened these posts.

Rojas speaks softly, as if doubting his own words. He doesn’t have much hair left on his head, but has plenty of wrinkles in his skin. He repeats constantly that he didn’t look this way before, but that the legal proceedings have affected him and that he “doesn’t even want to bathe anymore.”

The legal proceedings have consumed six years of his life. The first ruling in his favor in 2015 concluded the city had to reinstate him with the same salary without back pay.

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After the first verdict, the mayor ordered Rojas’s reinstatement. According to him, human resources gave him an office that wasn’t related to his department and didn’t provide him with equipment to work on. A month later, the mayor filed the first appeal and forced him to leave the job.

“It was a total joke,” says Rosa Rivera Bejarano, attorney for the National Association of Public and Private Employees (ANEP), who has handled the case since it began.

In 2017, the second ruling in Rojas’s favor stated he must be reinstated and the city must pay him the money he would have earned had he never been fired, plus benefits. In total, it amounted to about $105,000.

After receiving notice of the resolution, the former official went to city hall everyday for a week trying to get his job back.

In an appeal filed in 2018, Rojas said deputy mayor Adriana Rodríguez (who was mayor at the time because Jiménez was suspended) sent him to human resources, where he was told he would be reinstated at the end of the week. Days later, he was informed Rodríguez would appeal the new ruling and requested him to leave the building.

“Joke after joke,” said Rivera, who says she has been witness to the physical and psychological consequences Rojas has faced because of the ordeal.

Mental Consequences

Rojas is a political scientist with a Master’s degree in foreign economic relations. He was consul in Paraguay and worked in several different public institutions before joining the city. He says that after “so many rejections” his mental health has been severely affected.

According to Social Security Institute records (CCSS), he has resumed his treatment for depression since 2015, the year of the first ruling.

He is currently undergoing psychiatric treatment and says he has suicidal thoughts and has even “planned all the details of my suicide.”

His voice crackles when he speaks about his current state. He starts to tremble and lowers his head to try and hide the tears. After remaining silent for a few minutes, he says:

“they fired me at age 50, an age at which if you don’t work you feel useless. That’s how I feel. If I don’t get back to work this year, I might kill myself.”

Rojas is living temporarily in San Jose with family because can’t want to pay rent in Nicoya. He says that over these last few years, he has gone into over $105,000 in debt, almost half of what the City owes him.

In order to “survive,” as he says, he has taken a few teaching jobs. He says he “has tried” to work as a driver, but the income has been irregular.

The Latest Ruling

The appeals court issued a ruling in the case on July 18, 2019. It rejected Rodríguez’s appeal, filed in 2017, and upheld the previous ruling, which favored Rojas.

Jiménez and the city press department said they haven’t been notified of the ruling and, therefore, can’t do anything about the case.

The judiciary’s press department tells another story. “The court confirms all appeals in this case have been cleared, as ruled on July 18, 2019, after which the final ruling was drafted and sent to all involved parties on September 5, 2019,” the judiciary said in an email.

Attorney Rivera also notified the mayor about the ruling in October. The mayor responded, claiming he couldn’t do anything until he was told by the judiciary. Marco Jiménez will no longer be mayor in May 2020 after municipal elections.

This newspaper sent eight questions to the mayor regarding the case, but he didn’t answer them. “The City of Nicoya has not yet received notification from the claims court about the ruling in case of Adrián Rojas Herrera and, therefore, cannot comment on the case.”

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