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UNM to pay $800,000 to settle doctor’s lawsuit

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

The University of New Mexico agreed to an $800,000 payout to settle a former medical resident’s claims that she was retaliated against and ultimately fired after reporting a fellow resident had raped her.

Dr. Cynthia Herald and the university reached the settlement prior to closing arguments in a trial last November. They signed the agreement in January, but state law precluded the immediate release of the details.

Herald had sought about $4 million in lost wages in addition to compensation for damages.

The settlement, first reported by New Mexico Political Report, closed the case Herald first brought in 2011. While she lost in court in 2013, she successfully appealed en route to the two-week trial in 2017.

Herald, a former UNM anesthesiology resident, alleged that a fellow resident raped her in 2009. She alleged that she faced increased scrutiny and criticism after reporting it to superiors and was ultimately terminated in 2010. UNM contended that Herald was fired for poor performance and drug use.

UNM supervisors never interviewed the man who allegedly raped Herald. He was not named as a defendant in Herald’s suit and he was never criminally charged.

The university also disclaimed “any unlawful, improper or wrongful conduct” in relation to Herald’s retaliation claim, according to the settlement agreement. The agreement ended all claims against UNM “including further developments thereof in any way growing out of or connected” to the suit.

UNM paid $775,000 of the settlement amount, with the state picking up the rest, according to a spokeswoman from UNM’s Health Sciences Center. UNM covered its portion with funds from the office of Chancellor Paul Roth ($475,000) and the anesthesiology department ($300,000), spokeswoman Alex Sanchez said.

Dr. Hugh Martin, UNM’s anesthesiology chair, had blamed the settlement for consuming funds he had planned to use for bonuses in an email to faculty a few weeks after last year’s trial.

Herald’s attorney, Lisa Curtis, cited that and other internal emails as grounds for another possible lawsuit.

Curtis wrote in a Jan. 3 tort notice that UNM violated the settlement’s confidentiality covenant and also intentionally inflicted “emotional distress through continuing false statements” about her.

Curtis said the $800,000 settlement agreement does not preclude Herald from pursuing the breach of contract claim, but she did not immediately answer a Journal question about whether Herald planned to file suit.