Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal
A former Western New Mexico University administrator is suing the institution, claiming she was fired after reporting “financial improprieties and misconduct” by the president.
But university President Joseph Shepard denies those allegations, saying he terminated Brenda Findley, the one-time vice president for business affairs, “because her competency didn’t match what we needed.”
Findley, who worked at WNMU from early 2015 until late 2016, is suing under the state’s Whistleblower Protection Act.
“WNMU and Dr. Shepherd (sic) retaliated against Dr. Findley and terminated her because she had reported her good faith belief regarding unethical and improper behavior and/or because she had refused to participate in or tolerate practices she believed in good faith constituted unlawful or improper acts,” according to the suit, filed earlier this month in state District Court in Silver City.
Findley alleges in her lawsuit that Shepard had the university janitorial staff clean his home and do personal errands; gave an employee a $1,000 bonus; and directed what she claims was an “unfair” $5,000 raise to a top administrator to cover rent payments for a house on the president’s compound where the employee previously had been living for free.
Findley claims she was fired a few weeks after a meeting in which she asked Shepard to change revenue coding to provide more specificity in reporting.
Shepard denied the allegations in an interview.
He said university staff does help clean his home, because it is university-owned property and frequently open to the public for events. He said he has never had employees handle his personal errands.
The $1,000 bonus cited in Findley’s suit was tied to the university’s annual staff member of the year program, Shepard said, calling it “part of the compensation here at the university.”
As for the raise, the president said it went to the head of maintenance and operations to compensate him for having to be on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Shepard said the university had charged the employee rent to live in the house, though he did not know whether the employee had ever lived there rent-free.
He said Findley was not terminated in retaliation but rather because “she wasn’t compatible with our university.”
Findley’s attorney, Samuel Wolf, said in a statement, “We stand by our claims and look forward to the facts coming out.”
Findley is asking the court to force WNMU to pay her what she would have earned had she not been fired – her contract was through mid-2019 – with interest, plus twice the amount of her back pay, legal fees and compensation for “special damages sustained.”
Court records show that Findley in 2017 filed a discrimination claim against WNMU with the New Mexico Human Rights Bureau, but the state found no probable cause for her claim. She has a pending lawsuit against the agency alleging it has violated the New Mexico Inspection of Public Records Act request by not providing her documents related to the investigation.