State spends millions on settlements, often silently
Santa FE New Mexican
By Phaedra Haywood
May 12, 2018
Phillip G. Ramirez Jr., an Army National Guard veteran who served in Iraq and Kuwait, filed a lawsuit against the state of New Mexico in 2008, claiming his supervisors in the state Children, Youth and Families Department harassed and discriminated against him when he returned from more than a year of active duty.
They refused to make accommodations for his diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, Ramirez claimed in the lawsuit, then tried to push him out by mandating what he called unreasonable job requirements that made it impossible for him to fulfill his role as a community support officer monitoring at-risk juvenile offenders.
Fired by the department in 2008, Ramirez claimed the department violated a federal law that protects the employment rights of service members deployed for more than 30 days.
“I felt betrayed,” said Ramirez, who had received positive performance reviews by CYFD for nearly a decade before his deployment, according to his suit. “I was fighting the enemy overseas and when I returned I was fighting the enemy, too,” he said. “Coming home should be peacetime and I felt the fight was still on my hands.”
In 2011, a Gallup jury found in Ramirez’s favor. He was to receive $36,000 in back pay. But rather than write the check and make accommodations for him, the state appealed the state District Court’s decision to the New Mexico Court of Appeals — a move that sparked a yearslong legal battle that eventually prompted a second lawsuit and ultimately concluded with the state Supreme Court ruling in favor of Ramirez.
In the end, the costs to the state were $598,857 in legal fees for the first lawsuit; $36,000 to satisfy the judgment in the case; $235,000 to cover Ramirez’s legal expenses; $74,108 to fight a second lawsuit; $115,000 to settle that case out of court.
Total bill: $1,058,965.
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