Quay County Sun - Serving the High Plains

Mesalands settles 2 employee discrimination claims


April 8, 2014

QCS Staff

A former employee and a current employee of Mesalands Community College have received a total of $495,000 in settlement of their employment discrimination charges against the college.

The New Mexico Public School Insurance Authority is paying the claims, according to Linda Hemphill, attorney for both claimants.

Former employee Jennifer DeBord, who was Administrative Secretary to the Dean of Student Services Dr. Aaron Kennedy from 2006 until her employment ended in September 2010, received a settlement of $225,000. Joanna Gutierrez, who has been employed at Mesalands since January 2001received an award of $240,000.

A third wrongful termination complaint against the college, filed by former personnel director Kenneth Cooper, is still pending, Hemphill said.

The three filed their lawsuit in April 2012. All three allege they were subjected to discrimination by college officials, including former president Phillip O. Barry and Dr. Aaron Kennedy, vice president of Student Affairs.

The suit also alleged that Barry, Kennedy and other college officials required the employees to hide improper expenses and purchases made with college foundation funds and created an atmosphere of intimidation.

Neither Mesalands President Thomas Newsom nor the college's attorney in this matter, John F. Kennedy of Albuquerque, responded immediately to telephone inquiries on the matter.

Cooper’s wrongful termination allegations will be tried separately from DeBord’s and Gutierrez’s . Cooper began working for Mesalands as its personnel directly in January 2011. In April 2011, his contract was renewed by the Board of Trustees and on April 29, 2011, he received a score of 3.88 out of 5 on his performance evaluation, the lawsuit states.

On May 16, 2011, however, Cooper learned his contract would be terminated without cause, Hemphill said. Hemphill alleges that Cooper was dismissed after presenting a risk assessment report to Barry and other college officials, including then-dean David Plummer, Kennedy and Natalie Gillard, vice president of Academic Affairs, on May 10, 2011. In that meeting, Hemphill said, Cooper allegedly outlined improprieties in salary increases and bonuses paid to apparent staff “favorites,” and challenged other conduct that was illegal and unethical, , Hemphill said.

Cooper's claims are scheduled for trial beginning on December 1, 2014 in Tucumcari.


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