ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – The firing of a state supervisor at the center of a KRQE News 13 investigation five years ago, is now costing taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. That former state supervisor claims he was caught in the middle of media pressure to fire his own employee. Now, he’s receiving a payday from the state.
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The State of New Mexico agreed to settle a lawsuit and pay Adrian Apodaca $200,000. Apodaca is the former Director of the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR), an agency that offers services to people with disabilities and is under the oversight of the Public Education Department.
In a whistleblower lawsuit against the PED and its former Secretary, Christopher Ruszkowski, Apodaca claims he was retaliated against and wrongfully fired for refusing to fire a man at the center of a 2018 KRQE News 13 investigation, Richard Martinez.
“My immediate reaction was, not on my watch,” Ruszkowski told News 13 in 2018, reacting to the investigation into sexual harassment claims against Martinez, who’d just been demoted by the Department of Transportation and left his supervisor role there for a promotion as the state’s General Services Manager for DVR.
“It’s such an abuse of power and it’s so evident,” one of his accusers told KRQE back in 2018. Martinez’s accusers prompted the NMDOT back then to pay roughly $20,000 for an outside investigator to get to the bottom of accusations from three employees.
“None of us wanted it,” one of the women told KRQE News 13. “None of us wanted a thing to do with you, you put us in that position and we had no choice.”
The investigation revealed Martinez admitted to having sexual relationships with two female employees he supervised. However, he claims it was consensual.
According to a whistleblower lawsuit later filed by Apodaca, after News 13’s report about Martinez aired, Apodaca claims he was being pressured by Ruszkowski, “…into coming up with a reason to fire Richard Martinez.”
Apodaca said he refused, stating there was no legal basis to fire Martinez. He also referred to DVR’s own HR review of his discipline prior to hiring Martinez, stating the DOT investigation was “one-sided and did not disqualify him (Martinez) from being the General Services Manager at DVR.
Apodaca was then placed on paid leave as the PED launched its own investigation into alleged sexual harassment claims against Apodaca. His lawsuit states, the handpicked investigator “…was aware of the Defendants objective to retaliate against Mr. Apodaca by creating sham reasons to fire him.”
Martinez and Apodaca were fired in 2018. Last week, the state agreed to settle Apodaca’s lawsuit for $200,000.
The whistleblower lawsuit also notes, in 2020, a District Court Judge overturned the PED’s decision to fire Martinez, and ordered to rehire him with full backpay and benefits.