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New Mexico Prison Guards Win $700,000 Age Discrimination Settlement

by Ed Lyon

Several long-time employees of the New Mexico Corrections Department (NMCD) filed age discrimination and retaliation complaints against that agency with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Senior Warden Anthony Romero was 38 years old when he reviewed three candidates for promotion to a vacant major position; 49-year-old Captain Richard Henderson, 40-something Jerry Martinez and an unnamed 31-year-old were vying for the job. Romero selected the 31-year-old, explaining he wanted “longevity” – his euphemism for a younger person who would remain in the job for a longer period of time.

Henderson submitted a formal complaint to the EEOC. Romero then ordered Assistant Warden Robert Tenorio to investigate Henderson. Tenorio was told to document fireable offenses against Henderson, which he refused to do because no such grounds existed. Romero then ordered Tenorio to revise his report finding Henderson culpable. Tenorio again refused that illegal order, and Henderson supplemented his EEOC complaint.

Romero reassigned Henderson to supervise four departments of which he had only basic knowledge, setting him up for failure. The senior warden then opened up a second front by filing false accusations against Tenorio, conducting untimely job performance evaluations that were extremely unfavorable with false entries that caused Tenorio to lose subsequent promotion opportunities.

The EEOC’s investigation concluded that Tenorio was illegally terminated from his position in September 2012, despite being cleared of an employee/prisoner familiarity charge that was made against him by Romero. Henderson was eventually reassigned to his former captaincy in the prison’s Security Threat Intelligence Unit by Romero’s replacement.

The EEOC investigation progressed to the point of identifying several other NMDC employees who had been subjected to age discrimination; it also uncovered “a culture of age discrimination that continues to be adopted and applied by NMDC in job selection decisions and the agency’s treatment of older workers.”

The NMDC declined to assist with the EEOC’s investigation despite a written invitation from the federal agency to do so.

A settlement was reached in a lawsuit filed by the EEOC on June 6, 2019. The identified NMDC employees who experienced discrimination due to their age, and who faced retaliation because they filed complaints, will share in a $700,000 award. Further, the NMCD agreed to implement a number of policy changes, safeguards, and monitoring and reporting procedures to be overseen by the EEOC. See: Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. State of New Mexico, U.S.D.C. (D. NM), Case No. 1:15-cv-00879-KK-LF. 


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Related legal case

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. State of New Mexico