Saturday, March 03, 2007
Highlands Settles Last Discrimination Lawsuit Against School
LAS VEGAS New Mexico Highlands University has agreed to pay a former assistant professor of chemistry $205,000 to settle the last remaining personnel-related lawsuit against the school.
David Wiedenfeld, who now teaches Marshall University in Huntington, W.Va., was one of four Anglo employees who were denied tenure at Highlands in 2005. He sued the school last year in federal court alleging the tenure denial was because he isn't Hispanic.
Highlands did not admit to any wrongdoing in the Wiedenfeld's settlement agreement, which was reached this past week.
Regents President Javier Gonzales said he is happy to close that chapter of the school's history.
"It just marks a new day at the university, and it closes a very sad and troubled past,'' he said.
The university has agreed to shell out more than $600,000 to settle three discrimination and wrongful termination lawsuits over the past year. All were filed during the rocky two-year tenure of Manny Aragon as university president.
Highlands agreed last March to pay $250,000 to settle a gender and racial discrimination lawsuit filed by Lyn deMartin, the former director of Highlands' Santa Fe Center. In July, the school agreed to pay former math professor Greg Turner $170,000 to settle a suit he filed after the school denied him tenure and fired him.
The state's Risk Management Division will pay Wiedenfeld about $195,000 in the settlement agreement, since Highlands is a public university. The university will cover the rest, Gonzales said.
A lawyer for Wiedenfeld, Todd Wertheim, said he would forward the settlement to the American Association of University Professors, which placed Highlands on its list of censured administrations last June. The association said it was concerned about actions the university took against Wiedenfeld and Turner.
Now that both lawsuits are settled, recently named Highlands President James Fries said that should help get Highlands off the censure list.
"It's a big step forward in resolving that whole situation,'' he said.
In January, regents at Highlands awarded tenure to Turner, who plans to return to the school in August.
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