A former New Mexico Motor Vehicle Division employee wasn’t allowed to speak Spanish to non-English-speaking foreign nationals seeking to renew their driver’s licenses and was fired when she complained about discrimination against Latino immigrants, according to a federal civil rights lawsuit filed Thursday.
The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund filed the suit in Santa Fe on behalf of Laura Montano of Albuquerque. The 39-year-old lost her job “after she voiced objections to a number of unfair, improper and discriminatory acts, policies, and practices,” the lawsuit said.
The firing violated the federal Whistleblower Protection Act, MALDEF said in the lawsuit. State officials, however, said Montano was a temporary contract employee who was let go because of poor performance.
Gov. Susana Martinez has pressed lawmakers twice to repeal the law allowing those in the country illegally from obtaining state driver’s licenses.
Thursday’s lawsuit comes as state workers work to carry out a Martinez administration initiative to check residency requirements of some immigrants with New Mexico driver’s licenses. A state judge has blocked the “Foreign National Residency Recertification Program” pending the outcome of another lawsuit brought by MALDEF that challenges the constitutionality of the program.
MALDEF staff attorney Rebecca Couto said Montano was told not to speak Spanish to foreign nationals or to translate English documents during interviews to prove residency requirements.
Montano said she was a temporary employee but was hoping to gain a permanent job with the division.
Montano worked on the residential certification program for about two weeks, said Demesia Padilla, cabinet secretary for the New Mexico Taxation and Revenue Department, which oversees the MVD.
Bilingual documents and materials were used in the program, she added.
“She demonstrated poor work performance and unprofessional conduct that detracted from the professionalism that was a hallmark of the way the program was run – including our emphasis on bilingual materials, bilingual call center representatives, and bilingual employees at the recertification office,” Padilla said in a statement Thursday.
— This article appeared on page C01 of the Albuquerque Journal