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Doa Ana County settles discrimination lawsuit

Doa Ana County has settled a discrimination lawsuit with a former employee for almost half-a-million dollars.

The attorney for Veronica Apodaca told ABC-7 the suit was settled last week. A spokesman for the county told us today he could not discuss threatened or pending litigation.

The case that prompted the lawsuit goes back to 2014.

Apodaca’s attorney, Daniela Labinoti, said her client complained that human resources director Deborah Weir was discriminating against her for being Hispanic, only to be written up two days later. The lawsuit alleged Apodaca was then fired after she complained of retaliation.

Labinoti said the $450,000 settlement includes attorneys fees and court costs, and the notice of dismissal with prejudice has been filed, so the complaint cannot be refiled and the resolution is final.

Although the settlement brings closure, Labinoti said it also brings mixed feelings with it.

“There’s always happiness when a case closes. There’s a sense of relief,” said Labinoti. But then there is the regret of not taking a case before a jury and having to relive trying situations in public.

“It takes a lot of courage (to be a whistleblower),” she said.

Labinoti also represented two other former employees who’ve successfully sued Dona Ana county: Kim Stewart and Jorge Granados. A jury awarded Stewart $1.2 million dollars for wrongful termination last year. Another jury awarded Granados $250,000 after he sued the county for retaliation in 2013, according to the Las Cruces Sun-News.

Asked if she thought things were improving for county employees after handling those three cases over the years, Labinoti said:

“People have more of a voice, more courage to stand up and speak up. They know and understand their rights.”

However, she was less hopeful about the core of the concerns brought up by those employees.

“If the decision makers are the same, there will be no change,” Labinoti said.

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