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State pays $700,000 to settle lawsuit

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

The state of New Mexico has agreed to pay $700,000 to Corrections Department employees who said they were discriminated against because of their age, and then retaliated against after making allegations against the state.

The settlement allows the New Mexico Corrections Department to deny allegations of age discrimination and retaliation while still paying out the settlement and subjecting itself to various types of monitoring for the next two years, according to a settlement agreement filed in U.S. District Court in New Mexico last week.

About 70 corrections employees will get a share of the settlement, which will be divided among them based on the facts of their particular complaints, said Loretta Medina, the supervisor trial attorney for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in New Mexico.

The complaint, which was filed in 2015, has three named complainants: Richard Henderson, Robert Tenorio and Paul Martinez, Sr. Much of the allegations happened at the Central New Mexico Correctional Facility in Los Lunas around 2010 to 2013.

According to the complaint, Henderson, a longtime corrections officer, rose through the ranks to captain when, at the age of 49, he applied for the rank of major at the Los Lunas prison. He said in the complaint that during the application process he was interviewed by Warden Anthony Romero, who reportedly said he wanted to fill the position with someone with “longevity.” A 31-year-old man with less experience was ultimately hired to the major rank, according to the complaint.

After not getting the promotion, Henderson filed an EEOC complaint, alleging discrimination.

According to the complaint, Romero then ordered Tenorio, a deputy warden at the facility, to “find policy or procedure violations by Henderson for allegedly failing to properly notify the Warden of undue familiarity between an inmate and a corrections employee,” according to the complaint.

Tenorio, who was 53 at the time, said in the complaint that he completed the investigation and found that Henderson didn’t violate any policies and procedures. Tenorio said he was discriminated against after not finding any policy violations against Henderson.

In 2012, Tenorio was fired for alleged policy violations, including alleged undue familiarity with an inmate, conflict of interest, and refusal to submit to a polygraph, which he denied, according to the complaint.

Paul Martinez, another corrections officer named in the complaint, was 58 years old in 2013 when he sought a job in the Security Threat Intelligence Unit at the Los Lunas prison. He said he was passed over for someone with less experience.

Romero and other officials from the Corrections Department didn’t return phone calls and emails on Monday.

“Employers who make employment decisions based on stereotypical notions of an older worker’s ability to work risk losing good employees who bring valuable experience and skill to their jobs,” said Regional Attorney Mary Jo O’Neill of the EEOC’s Phoenix District Office. “The EEOC will vigorously enforce the laws prohibiting age discrimination and retaliation against workers who have the courage to complain about it.”

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