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Trial Opens in Sexual Harassment Suit

ABQ City Hall accused of subjecting 911 employee to hostile work environment.

 

A federal trial to determine whether City Hall allowed a 911 employee to be sexually harassed began Tuesday with opening statements from both sides.

The five women and three men in the jury box will hear this week from plaintiff Michelle Lopez, who alleges she was subjected to a hostile work environment and sexual harassment at the 911 Emergency Call Center. The allegations center on Michael Padilla, a manager and consultant charged with overhauling and improving the center’s operation.

Attorneys for Lopez argued Tuesday that Padilla made disparaging, demeaning comments about women and suggested they ought to be at home with kids “making tortillas.”

Lopez and others reported the behavior, said Robert Gorence, an attorney for Lopez.

“They did everything they could to report this, but nothing was done,” he told the jury.

Attorneys representing the city of Albuquerque had a different view. They denied that Padilla harassed Lopez.

They told jurors to expect “great mudslinging” about alleged misbehavior but to pay attention to whether any of it actually happened to Lopez.

Patrick Allen, who’s defending the city, said 911 staffers resented the improvements and changes that Padilla sought.

“Mr. Padilla was pushy, a difficult guy, but he didn’t engage in sexual harassment,” Allen said.

He added that the city “took prompt, aggressive action” after learning of complaints against Padilla, who later resigned.

The trial is expected to last several days. Presiding in the case is senior federal Judge C. LeRoy Hansen.

Gorence set the stage for the case with opening statements early Tuesday afternoon. He said Lopez graduated from Rio Grande High School, became a single mom in early adulthood and worked hard to become a training supervisor in the 911 center.

“She is the epitome of a self-made woman,” Gorence said.

He described the 911 center as a “high stress environment” where staffers dealt with life and death decisions, not the kind of place where people typically joke over the role of women in the workplace.

Padilla has told reporters that the allegations against him are false and ridiculous.

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