Four current and former New Mexico State University faculty members and a graduate student have filed a lawsuit in federal court charging university administrators with racial discrimination and unfair professional retaliation.
Four plaintiffs allege they were racially and sexually discriminated against in the university’s Department of Health Science and then lost their positions or were denied promotions after they complained about the problems, the 37-page complaint said.
The plaintiffs include faculty members Satya Rao, who is East Indian; former faculty members Yelena Bird, who is black, and her husband, John Moraros, who is of Greek and Hispanic descent; and graduate student Freedom Cheteni, who is from Zimbabwe.
A fifth plaintiff, Robert Buckingham, who is white, alleged he was retaliated against professionally for refusing to help administrators support charges of plagiarism against Bird and Moraros, the complaint said.
Named as defendants are the NMSU Board of Regents, board member Robert Gallagher, former NMSU President Michael Martin, Health Science Department chairman James Robinson and Larry Olsen, a former professor and associate dean of the Health Science Department.
NMSU’s Senior Vice President Ben Woods said in a statement that the university stands by the decisions it has made regarding the plaintiffs.
“While we never look forward to a lawsuit, we do look forward to resolution of this issue. The courts are the proper venue for the facts to come out,” Woods said.
Christopher Moody, an attorney for the plaintiffs, called the allegations “astonishing.”
“It appears administrators are violating the law with impunity,” he said.
Moody said the case was filed electronically Thursday and has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Bruce Black in Santa Fe.
According to the complaint, the problems started when Moraros and others complained about receiving sexually explicit e-mails from Olsen starting in the spring of 2007.
In the complaint, the plaintiffs said they received anonymous notes calling them “niggers” and threatening phone calls. They also claim professional retaliation led to Moraros, Bird and Cheteni losing their positions.
Bird alleged that Robinson referred to her as a “smart black girl” and Olsen told her she was “too educated to be black,” the complaint said.
Bird and Moraros also accused Olsen and Robinson of a series of professional retaliations, such as freezing their research accounts and accusing them of fraud. That ultimately led to the termination of their teaching contracts in May.
In August, NMSU conditionally rescinded their admission into the master’s of social work program, the complaint said.
They also accuse Martin of trying to coerce other faculty members to bring plagiarism charges against Bird and Moraros for their master’s theses.
Martin allegedly threatened faculty members, including Buckingham, with retaliation if they failed to support his allegations of plagiarism, the complaint said.
Buckingham, who has been on the faculty since 1994, said Martin became verbally and physically abusive when he refused to support plagiarism charges against Bird and Moraros, the complaint said.
Rao, who was hired in 1996, has been the subject of racial slurs by faculty members and has been denied promotions because of her race, the complaint said.
Gallagher is accused of making public threats of reprisal against Bird and Moraros by threatening to release documents from “secret files” in retaliation for their opposition to discrimination at NMSU, the complaint said.
The plaintiffs are seeking damages for lost pay and employee benefits, compensation for their humiliation and distress and punitive damages against Olsen, Robinson, Martin and Gallagher, the complaint said.
Bird, Moraros and Cheteni are seeking reinstatement of their former positions and Rao is seeking promotion to full professor, it said.
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