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APS hit with whistleblower suit

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

A former Albuquerque Public Schools employee has filed a whistleblower complaint against APS, saying he was fired after alerting the district to employees dumping chemicals into a drainage ditch near the University of New Mexico’s sports arena, the Pit.

In a lawsuit filed in state District Court last week, Antonio Montano alleges the district fired him after he refused to dump chemicals in the ditch, told his supervisors and APS human resources about the issue and went to the New Mexico Department of Agriculture.

“Throughout Montano’s time working in … groundskeeping at APS, Montano saw APS maintenance employees continuously dump harmful pesticides in the arroyo on the south side of the APS Maintenance and Operation grounds near the University of New Mexico’s Dreamstyle Arena, known as the Pit,” the complaint says.

Montano says in his complaint that he learned how to properly dispose of pesticide chemicals in a continuing education class. He was aiming to be a supervisor and took the classes to get the necessary licenses to make that happen. But he never reached the supervisor level.

Nonhazardous pesticide waste must be disposed of in an approved sanitary landfill, and hazardous pesticides must be disposed of in a permitted site or designated area under supervision, according to New Mexico Administrative Code.

There were no details in the court filing on the type of pesticides APS was using.

“The dumping of pesticides in this arroyo poses a safety threat to Albuquerque … and the environment,” the lawsuit said.

APS spokeswoman Johanna King declined to comment, saying the district does not discuss pending litigation.

Montano had been working as an exterior pest control staffer at APS for about nine years, according to the complaint.

He claims his supervisor instructed him multiple times “to dump pesticide chemicals into the arroyo near the Pit” – something the lawsuit claims was a common practice for APS maintenance staff.

The New Mexico Department of Agriculture visited the site after Montano reported the issue to the department, but the illegal dumping continued, according to the document.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Agriculture said the department couldn’t comment on the visit.

The complaint says that after Montano refused to dump the chemicals in an unauthorized area, APS began “a bizarrely intrusive and expansive” investigation into Montano.

Montano’s supervisor received “anonymous” tips that Montano was skipping work and not adequately doing his job, according to the court documents.

According to the complaint, APS later accused him of using drugs and alcohol and put him on administrative leave. But the document says he passed drug and alcohol tests.

A previous performance evaluation rated Montano as being “a good worker” with “good attendance.”

Montano claims he was fired in June 2016 with no warning or discussion from supervisors “regarding any dissatisfaction with his work.”

Montano’s lawyer, Kate Ferlic, said the two decided to file now after having tried to work with the district.

“We have tried to work with APS to help change policy and resolve Mr. Montano’s concerns. However, APS left him with only one option – to seek protection of the Court,” she wrote in an email to the Journal.

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