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Jury awards APS whistleblower over $400,000

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

A jury awarded a former Albuquerque Public Schools employee over $400,000 in a whistleblower case he filed against the district after he was fired for raising concerns about how the district was disposing of pesticides.

Antonio Montano, a former APS groundskeeper, filed the complaint against the district in 2nd Judicial District Court in May 2018. He alleged that in 2015 he was instructed by a supervisor to dump pesticides into a city drainage ditch that fed into the Rio Grande.

Montano then brought the complaints to APS and the state Department of Agriculture. He alleged he was fired for bringing the complaints forward.

On Friday, a jury awarded Montano $101,972 in back pay and $300,000 for emotional distress, according to court documents. The jury also found that APS retaliated against Montano, in violation of the state Whistleblower Protection Act.

His attorney Kate Ferlic said the jury deliberated for about 2½ hours after a four-day trial.

“We’re thrilled for our client and feel like the justice system worked,” Ferlic said.

An APS spokesperson could not be reached for comment Monday.

Montano’s job duties included spraying pesticides at APS properties to control weeds and insects. In 2015, Montano said he was instructed by his supervisor to dispose of pesticides in a drainage ditch close to APS’s Maintenance and Operations building near The Pit, court documents say. The ditch carried storm runoff into the Rio Grande.

Montano had training on pesticide disposal and knew the disposal was improper, court documents say. He took his concerns to APS and the Department of Agriculture.

The Department of Agriculture visited the site after Montano reached out, but the illegal dumping continued, Montano’s lawsuit says.

APS conducted an investigation into Montano after he refused to continue to dump chemicals in an unauthorized area. The district received tips that Montano was not performing his work duties and was using drugs and alcohol while on the job, court documents say.

APS placed Montano on leave in May 2016 and fired him a month later.

The trial ended just before the state Supreme Court postponed all jury trials through the end of the year.

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