Outgoing New Mexico education secretary faces whistleblower suit – Santa Fe New Mexican

The former director of a state agency that offers job placement assistance to people with disabilities alleges in a new whistleblower complaint she was fired in February after resisting what she calls an illegal plan to shift her division to the Department of Workforce Solutions.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham hired Diane Mourning Brown to direct the largely federally funded Division of Vocational Rehabilitation in June 2019, according to the complaint, filed Monday in the state’s 2nd Judicial District Court. The division falls under the oversight of the Public Education Department.

However, the complaint says, “immediately upon her employment,” Public Education Secretary Ryan Stewart and Bill McCamley, who then served as the state’s Cabinet labor secretary, began directing Mourning Brown to move her division into Workforce Solutions, “contrary to both state and federal law and regulations.”

McCamley informed her the shift was the “governor’s priority,” according to the complaint.

A month later, Workforce Solutions hired a finance director who would also serve as the chief financial officer of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. Federal authorities called the hire invalid, the lawsuit says, so Mourning Brown terminated the worker’s contract, raising the ire of Stewart and McCamley.

Mourning Brown brought this and other concerns to the Governor’s Office in late August 2019, and the plan to transition her agency to Workforce Solutions was halted, the complaint says. Still, it alleges, harassment and even bullying by Stewart continued until Mourning Brown was fired by Lujan Grisham’s chief operating officer, Teresa Casados, earlier this year.

“Casados’ termination letter to Ms. Mourning Brown simply states that she was an at will employee and was terminated,” the lawsuit says.

Casados then prevented Mourning Brown from obtaining another state position, it adds.

Stewart — who announced last week he is stepping down at the end of the month — is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, which seeks “all lawfully recoverable damages,” legal costs and attorney’s fees.

In a statement emailed by his spokeswoman Tuesday, Stewart said, “There is no current effort under way to move DVR under the purview of Workforce Solutions. While we are confident that any allegation of harassment or bullying will prove meritless, we cannot comment on pending litigation or personnel matters.”

Stacy Johnston, a spokeswoman for the Department of Workforce Solutions, also said the agency does not comment on pending litigation.

Nora Meyers Sackett, a spokeswoman for Lujan Grisham, wrote in email the Governor’s Office had not yet seen the complaint. But, she wrote, “the allegations you specify are each false.”