Community advocate Lisa Calderón is suing Mayor Michael Hancock and members of his administration in federal court.
Calderón led a city-funded re-entry program for people leaving Denver’s jails starting in 2007. She lost the contract to other nonprofits this year — an act, she claimed, of political retaliation by the city’s leaders. Calderón has been an outspoken critic of Hancock and his administration.
Hancock’s office has denied the allegation. Instead, city staff have said Calderón lost the contract during a standard review.
Now, the lawsuit claims that “Lisa spoke out against the government and the government retaliated against her. That’s a real classic First Amendment claim,” explained civil rights attorney Patricia Bangert, who’s representing Calderón.
A separate claim also says that Calderón faced discrimination, alleging that city staff reached out to male-run organizations to replace her.
The city’s explanation is that its rules call for programs to be re-bid every so often, opening them up to new competition The program was last re-bid in 2011, so it was overdue.
Bangert said that Calderón was not notified of the bidding process and only found out through a backchannel.
“My understanding was there was a list of people to whom it was sent, and Lisa was left off that list,” the attorney said.
However, city staff say that an email went to Ageno Otii, a director for the program, and that his account sent an automatic reply on the same day as the rest of the notifications. “This contract followed the appropriate protocols and then some. This team went above and beyond to ensure equality and fairness in this process and the Board of Ethics has dismissed all complaints filed in this case,” wrote spokeswoman Julie Smith.
The lawsuit asks the court to declare that the city violated her First Amendment rights and to award damages. She has been an outspoken critic of Hancock and the sheriff’s department, including through her role at the Colorado Latino Forum.
The suit also names Sheriff Patrick Firman, deputy safety director Jess Vigil and sheriff’s chief of staff Andrea Albo.