ALBUQUERQUE, NM (KRQE) – A professor’s complaint about a settlement his department had to pay could land the University of New Mexico with a defamation lawsuit.
“When will UNM start to believe the victims of sexual violence instead of punishing?” asked attorney Lisa Curtis who slapped UNM with a tort notice Wednesday, saying she plans to sue for defamation after what she said is yet another attack on her client, Cynthia Herald.
Back in 2011, Herald sued the university for wrongful termination after she said she was raped by a fellow anesthesiology resident, then fired from the residency program for reporting it.
UNM was acquitted in district court in June 2013, but in an appeal, the New Mexico Supreme Court sided with Herald.
She was awarded an undisclosed settlement in November.
In an email to the anesthesiology department on Nov. 17, department chair Hugh Martin said, in part, “… given the current high profile Harvey Weinstein social environment and the threat of forced reinstatement of a known problem resident back into our Department, we thought the wisest move was to settle and move on.”
It’s Martin’s later email that has UNM facing a defamation lawsuit.
“It’s sort of shocking,” Curtis said.
On Nov. 30, Martin sent another email saying faculty would not be getting their bonuses this year because that money was used to pay a settlement to “problem resident, Cyndi Herald.”
UNM on Thursday clarified the bonuses are part of the School of Medicine’s incentive compensation program that is based on faculty performance. “A portion of a faculty member’s pay is held at risk and only given if they meet specific performance-based metrics, spanning research, clinical, and instructional activities. Each Department in the School of Medicine manages its incentive compensation program differently,” UNM stated in an email to KRQE News 13.
Curtis said that email was a breach of the confidential settlement, adding it’s another attempt by the department to silence women.
“Who would report that they’ve been raped to the university when their innocent colleagues bonuses are going to be removed if they report?” Curtis asked.
In a statement, UNM responded: “The Health Sciences Center is committed to constantly reflecting and improving how we avoid, stop and address sexual harassment and/or assault on any faculty, staff, student or patient at our facilities. We have a zero-tolerance policy for sexual misconduct.”
KRQE News 13 asked UNM why the Anesthesiology Department would have to pay the settlement instead of a risk fund or insurance policy. UNM said: funds from the Anesthesiology Department were used in this case but would not disclose how much.
Curtis said the alleged rapist was never investigated and he is now an anesthesiologist in Austin, Texas.