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Ex-CNM official sues over her ouster

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The former human resources director for the Central New Mexico Community College says in a lawsuit that top officials ousted her after she raised complaints about racial diversity and $80,000 in improper payments to employees.

College officials, however, called Denise Montoya’s claims unfounded and noted that she demanded a $500,000 buyout when the school decided not to renew her contract.

“CNM has a duty to be fiscally responsible with public money and will be not be intimidated by unfounded claims and demands for expensive half-million dollar buyouts,” said CNM president Kathie Winograd in a statement.

Montoya worked for CNM from July 2013 to January 2016, where she made about $135,000 a year. Her attorney J. Edward Hollington filed the whistleblower suit Tuesday seeking $31,000 in lost wages, lawyer’s fees and other damages.

Among her complaints, Montoya said the CNM Foundation, a nonprofit that supports the school, misused some of its funding to promote a bond campaign. CNM officials said they reviewed that complaint and found no wrongdoing.

Montoya also said Kathy Ulibarri, the college’s vice president for finance and operations, ignored Montoya’s concerns about hiring a diverse staff that reflected the racial makeup of the 25,000 students.

And Montoya said the college overpaid health insurance premiums for employees totaling $80,000 and failed to recoup the money.

“Ulibarri appeared upset with Dr. Montoya for trying to discover and collect public monies owing to CNM and offered little support for Dr. Montoya’s efforts to research and collect over payments of public monies of over $80,000.00,” the lawsuit said.

Winograd said those allegations are false, and that the college will fight to refute her claims.

Montoya said Ulibarri cut her out of human resources meetings after Montoya raised complaints. Montoya’s contract wasn’t renewed at the end of December 2015, though she was offered a three-month extension, with the understanding she seek new employment.

Hollington said that contract contained a clause that would let the college fire Montoya without recourse. His client, he said, felt the college was trying to oust her, and instead asked for three years pay, about $500,000, if they wanted to terminate her position.

CNM did not accept that offer. Montoya said she was never informed of that fact and she continued working into January, but wasn’t paid for that work.

College officials said they notified Montoya of their concerns about her job performance in July 2015 by offering her a six-month contract instead of the standard year-long contract.

Winograd also said some employees said Montoya created a hostile work environment and retaliated against her subordinate employees.

“CNM looks forward to protecting taxpayer funds and vigorously defending itself against the false allegations in Denise Montoya’s lawsuit” Winograd said.