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Lawyer’s lawsuit alleges equal pay violations

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — A lawyer working in a special mortgage assistance program in District Court in Albuquerque claims in a new civil lawsuit that she was paid thousands of dollars less than her male counterpart in the 13th Judicial District and that she was retaliated against when she complained about it.

Erin O. Anderson is suing the 2nd Judicial District Court, its executive, the state and Attorney General Hector Balderas in a complaint alleging violations of the Fair Pay for Women Act and the Whistleblower Protection Act.

Anderson, whose job ends Friday, started work in April 2014 under a program funded by a grant from the state Attorney General’s Office to help people facing foreclosure negotiate with banks and other financial institutions in an effort to keep their homes. Funds for the Mortgage Alternative Program came from a national settlement and was a joint pilot program with the 13th District – including Belen, Grants and Rio Rancho – headed by an assistant attorney general.

Anderson says in the lawsuit filed Nov. 9 that she was paid some $18,000 less than her male counterpart in the 13th District.

In the lawsuit, she says she “naively believed that this problem would be swiftly remedied” and handled confidentially.

“The mere discovery that the court would endorse anachronistic and unequal pay was deeply disturbing and disheartening,” the lawsuit says.

She asked court executive James Noel to address the issue, but months passed with no action, the lawsuit says.

Chief Judge Nan Nash said last week that she could not comment on the particulars of pending litigation, except to say: “We disagree with Ms. Anderson’s contentions. We will trust in the judicial process to resolve this matter.”

The complaint says Anderson reported the alleged pay disparity to the Attorney General’s Office in February 2015 and learned the two judicial districts received identical funding. She says she was advised to seek legal counsel.

Although she had hoped for the matter to be addressed internally and confidentially, she contends that Noel wrote a memo that was “retaliatory in nature” to Anderson’s supervisor, Nash, and the civil division chief judge.

Anderson’s lawsuit says she couldn’t run a busy pilot program and investigate the pay issue, so she filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, asking it to look into the matter. Anderson said in a phone interview that mediation with the EEOC failed.

After her EEOC filing, the 13th District received additional funds for its pilot, but the 2nd District received no money, which Anderson says is “a direct result” of her inquiry about equal pay and “the role of HUD (Housing and Urban Development) certified housing counselors and how this would adversely affect hundreds of consumers.”

The lawsuit also contends she was forbidden to discuss the defunding of the United South Broadway Corp. by the state Attorney General’s Office, where Anderson had previously worked. United South Broadway, which previously operated the program, sued Balderas in June in District Court in Santa Fe alleging breach of contract.

Nash said the 2nd District’s budget request for the next fiscal year includes funds to continue the program, but it will cease to function unless the Legislature decides to pay for it.

“There’s going to be a hiatus one way or the other,” Nash said. “When the AG’s Office gave us funding, they didn’t indicate they’d give us more, and they’re not giving us more.”

Nash said when the case is filed she expects to file a blanket recusal, meaning the Supreme Court will assign it to an out-of-district judge.

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