Graduate Students

Federal Lawsuit Accuses College of Not Stopping Harassment by President

January 11, 2009

Washington — The U.S. Department of Justice sued Luna Community College on Friday, accusing the New Mexico institution of doing little or nothing to stop its president from sexually harassing a subordinate employee in 2005 and early 2006.

The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court in Albuquerque, seeks unspecified damages on behalf of Charlene Ortiz-Cordova, who at the time of the alleged harassment was academic director. The suit was filed under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which among other things prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of sex.

According to the Justice Department, Ms. Ortiz-Cordova was subjected to unwanted sexual contact, gestures, and comments by the college’s president at the time, Leroy Sanchez, in a manner that created a hostile work environment.

She complained repeatedly about the unwanted attention to her immediate supervisors, the lawsuit says, but only after a year had passed did one of them alert the college’s human-resources department of Ms. Ortiz-Cordova’s complaints. Mr. Sanchez was told to avoid contacting Ms. Ortiz-Cordova, the suit alleges, but he was never disciplined and nothing further was done about the matter.

Ms. Ortiz-Cordova left her job in 2006 and filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which investigated and verified the allegations. It referred the case to the Justice Department after attempts at a “voluntary resolution” with Luna failed.

The college could not be reached for comment over the weekend, but according to the Associated Press, it told the EEOC last year that the sexual contact between Ms. Ortiz-Cordova and Mr. Sanchez was inappropriate but consensual and did not represent harassment. Mr. Sanchez retired as president in late 2006.

In a news release, the Justice Department said that it rarely filed lawsuits citing Title VII, only 12 in all of 2008, and that this was the first of 2009. —Andrew Mytelka