Whistleblower Files Suit Against The Clerk’s Office Of Doña Ana County
A former Doña Ana County Clerk’s Office employee filed a civil lawsuit Tuesday alleging violations of the state’s Whistleblower Protection Act and his civil rights.
Robert “RJ” Hernandez, via attorney Hans William Voss, alleged in the lawsuit he was “subjected to cronyism, harassment, retaliation, creation of a hostile work environment and outrageous” conduct that “adversely” affected his employment at the county.
Hernandez, who was a temporary employee, was terminated in early June, a few days after an alleged voter rolls ID theft and IRS check cashing scam came to light. Hernandez had tipped off authorities to the scandal.
Hernandez, in the 19-page lawsuit, made a number of claims, including his role in tipping off authorities to a former county clerk’s office employee and coworker who has been criminally charged for allegedly stealing voter information from the county clerk’s office and funneling it to counterparts in Mexico. The former employee, Maria Ceniceros, then allegedly used the information to fraudulently file IRS tax returns.
Hernandez contended he was targeted by the county clerk’s office “in retaliation for the public embarrassment caused to (County Clerk) Lynn Ellins, associated with Mr. Hernandez’s Constitutionally protected action of speaking out about criminal activity” within the clerk’s office, though the state’s Whistleblower Protection Act prevents retaliation, according to the complaint.
County officials, however, have maintained Hernandez’s job — a temporary position that can be halted at any time — wasn’t ended because of his whistleblowing.
County Manager Julia Brown repeated that Wednesday: “I’ve already said everything that it’s appropriate to say — that his dismissal had nothing to do with his participation in or cooperation with a criminal investigation or any complaint he filed.”
Hernandez last week filed a formal notice with the county, warning he might file a lawsuit.
Hernandez claimed he was retaliated against for “seeking support in his off-duty hours for his possible candidacy for Doña Ana County clerk.” He wrote that on April 15, he “casually mentioned” to Deputy County Clerk Scott Krahling that he was considering running for county clerk as a Republican in 2016. Then on April 16, “Mr. Hernandez was approached by Scott Krahling through a Facebook posting” and on April 17 was “confronted by Scott Krahling in Mr. Hernandez’ office,” according to the court documents.
The lawsuit didn’t specify the details of the meeting.
Hernandez alleged that afterward, he was locked out of the county computer system, county clerk’s staff were “instructed not to speak to him” and didn’t speak to him, and Krahling “did not speak to him for in excess of two months.”
Told about the lawsuit Wednesday, Krahling said throughout his career in public office, he’s strived to promote fairness and opposes retaliation and discrimination, something that people who know him are aware of.
“It’s just not in my in my nature,” he said. “I believe too passionately in equality and treating people fairly to do something like that. So, I hope that the public will withhold judgment until our day in court, when all the facts are on the table.”
Continued Krahling: “And, at that time, things will be much clearer.”
Hernandez’s complaint states he’d filed several Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaints outlining his concerns, which were “largely disregarded” by the county’s legal department. He also contends his rights to freely associate with other people and freedom of speech were infringed upon.
County Spokesman Jess Williams said county policy prevents him from talking about threatened or pending litigation.
According to court documents, Hernandez also claims he was defamed when Ellins mentioned in a public meeting that Hernandez’s termination was not related to the whistleblowing activities, but “other serious issues” were involved, according to court records. He contended Brown made “false” statements by saying Hernandez was not terminated because he was a whistleblower.
Hernandez is seeking a jury to decide the case.
If you have questions about whistleblower rights, please contact us.
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Article By: Diana Alba Soular, Visit: www.LCSun-News.com
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