State agency disregards sexual harassment investigation, gives worker pay raise

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A state agency disregarded a sexual harassment investigation and hired an employee on as a manager with a pay raise, according to public records News 13 obtained.

Richard Martinez was a high-ranking supervisor at the New Mexico Department of Transportation (NMDOT).

News 13 has learned the Department paid roughly $20,000 for an outside investigator to get to the bottom of accusations from three of its employees last year.

KRQE News 13 agreed to protect the identity of one of them, who fears retaliation.

“He reached out like he was going to help you… and then the advances came,” she said. “Requests for favors, sexual favors in his office. This is behind closed doors on state time.”     

News 13 has learned the three-month long independent investigation revealed Martinez, the Procurement and Facilities Management Division Director at NMDOT, admitted to having sexual relationships with two female employees he supervised.

He said it was consensual.

The investigation questions whether a relationship between a supervisor and a subordinate truly can be consensual.

“You put us in that position, and we had no choice but to sit there and try to play ball,” one woman said about Martinez. “And when we didn’t want you, you turned hostile.”  

Also, a third employee, who did not allege sexual harassment, reported taking medical leave for workplace stress, saying Martinez was hostile and overbearing.

Ultimately, investigators found Martinez created conflicts of interest, violated NMDOT policies and unnecessarily put NMDOT at risk of getting sued at the taxpayers’ expense. 

“It’s such an abuse of power, and it’s so evident,” a woman told News 13.

Martinez’ behavior “constituted sexual harassment,” a “hostile work environment and offensive conduct,” according to a letter from the NMDOT earlier this year.

As a result, News 13 has learned, the NMDOT stripped Martinez of his duties as supervisor in August and knocked down his pay from an $87,000 salary to $55,000.

However, just one month later, he resigned to take a job with another state agency instead, which gave him a pay raise and the power, yet again, to supervise employees.

He transferred with a promotion to General Services Manager at the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR).

The agency offers services to people with disabilities and is under the oversight of the New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED).

“I was and am furious if these things are true,” NMPED Secretary Christopher Ruszkowski told News 13. “If these allegations and accusations are true, then DVR did not exercise appropriate judgment.”   

DVR knew about the sexual harassment investigation and Martinez’ discipline, and hired him anyway.

NMPED provided public records that show DVR reviewed Martinez’ personnel file at NMDOT. A DVR document refers to the sexual harassment investigation as “one-sided,” noting “the accusers were interviewed in great detail” and “the questions were simplistic.”

Martinez had been on the job for more than a month when News 13 brought it to the attention of NMPED Secretary Ruszkowski.

“My immediate reaction was, not on my watch. Not on my watch,” he said. “The minute I became aware, we put DVR under investigation. We took immediate personnel action and we’ve now stripped DVR of its hiring authority.”

Because, Ruszkowski said, he didn’t sign off on Martinez’ hiring.

He said, until now, DVR had the power to independently hire its own employees. That’s why, NMPED said, Martinez and the managers involved in hiring him are on paid leave during an investigation. 

“He shouldn’t be working in state government as far as I’m concerned,” Rep. Liz Thomson (D-Albuquerque).

She has pushed for workplace training to prevent sexual harassment, previously proposing a bill to make sure even employees at companies that the state contracts with are trained on the policies.

Rep. Thomson said DVR hiring Martinez as a manager is unacceptable.

“All this talk about, ‘Me too,’ and equality and being treated the same, the state right now is saying, ‘Oh, just kidding, you know, we don’t really believe that,’” Rep. Thomson said.    

At least two women under Martinez’ supervision at the Transportation Department ended up leaving, getting state jobs elsewhere to get away.

However, they worry about who will have to work for Martinez next.

“They turned a blind eye to what was on his record, and I promise you this will happen again.”

Martinez did not respond to our requests for an interview.

In addition to DVR approving his hire, the State Personnel Office also signed off on it shortly after approving NMDOT’s discipline. 

The State Personnel Office refused to discuss it in an interview.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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