Serving the High Plains

Fired athletic director settles suit with Mesalands

The Mesalands Community College board of trustees recently agreed to a settlement with its fired athletic director that includes a $80,000 payout.

Milan Rasic was among four former Mesalands employees who filed lawsuits in May 2023 against the college after they claimed they were unjustly fired from their positions.

Though former Mesalands president Gregory Busch was not named in the suits, the firings occurred during his tenure. A news release from Rasic’s attorney, Daniel Apodaca of the SaucedoChavez law firm in Albuquerque, concerning the settlement directly named Busch.

Busch resigned in March 2023 after he was accused of ignoring warnings of Mesalands’ declining financial condition. He also was accused of threatening to fire employees if they revealed the state had placed the college under fiscal oversight.

Busch and his wife, Workforce Development director Mary Beth Busch, left Tucumcari shortly after the executive team, staff senate and faculty senate issued no-confidence votes against him in February 2023.

Gregory Busch resigned weeks later.

Rasic, the Mesalands board and the New Mexico Public School Insurance Authority entered into a settlement agreement and release on April 26, according to court documents.

District Judge Abigail Aragon issued an order on May 9 to dismiss Rasic’s lawsuit with prejudice, meaning it cannot be brought back to court.

The college’s attorney, Chelsea Green of Hinkle Shanor LLP of Roswell, stated in a filing that both sides “reached an amicable agreement.”

The settlement states a lump-sum payment of $80,000 will be issued in two checks, with minimum tax withholding on one-third of the amount to Rasic and the remaining two-thirds to his law firm.

The settlement also must cover mediator fees to Judge Nan Nash for a session that occurred in March.

Mesalands must agree to provide a neutral letter of reference containing Rasic’s date of employment. Neither party would admit any liability in the case and pay each other’s attorney fees.

Rasic’s lawsuit had been scheduled to go to trial in December.

Mesalands interim president Allen Moss briefly mentioned the Rasic settlement during a board of trustees meeting on May 21. He said the college would issue no statement about it.

Busch hired Rasic as director of athletics, health and wellness shortly after the Mesalands board appointed him as president in April 2021.

According to a news release about the settlement, Rasic was fired in August 2022 after raising concerns with Mesalands about campus security, Title IX compliance, budgets and overspending. Rasic also contacted New Mexico Office of the State Auditor investigators about the issues.

“Mr. Rasic alleged that after raising his concerns to the State Auditor, he was told by Dr. Busch, on multiple occasions, that he needed to be careful as to who he raised his concerns about, and that all concerns he had needed to be handled ‘internally,’” the release stated.

Rasic stated his lawsuit he received a 96 out of 100 job-evaluation score two months before he was given a letter of termination after being called into the president’s office.

Rasic, 52 at the time of his firing, alleged age discrimination. He stated he was replaced “by a much younger man” and that the college subjected him to “a hostile work environment.”

Rasic’s lawsuit also alleged retaliation by the college.

“One of my goals in bringing this lawsuiwas to stand up for the other employees that have faced or may continue to face the retaliatory actions of Mesalands,” Rasic stated in the news release after the settlement.

Rasic now is coordinator of recreational services at University of New Mexico-Valencia in Las Lunas.

Apodaca in a phone interview described the settlement for his client as “appropriate.”

“It’s always nice to see an entity in this case, Mesalands, do the right thing and sort of take care of the liability right away,” he added.

Other fired Mesalands employees who filed suits against the board of trustees were Natalie Gillard, former vice president of academic affairs; Rose Brito, Gillard’s former administrative assistant; and Donna Garcia, former professor of sociology and social work. The lawsuits state the firings occurred in May 2022.

Those lawsuits are ongoing.

 
 
Rendered 06/20/2024 03:34