BY MAIRE O’NEILL
Former Los Alamos Animal Shelter manager, Victoria Murphy, has filed separate lawsuits against both Los Alamos County and the City of Albuquerque alleging violation of the New Mexico Whistleblowers Act.
The Los Alamos Reporter discovered the Los Alamos County case while researching information on the Albuquerque case after an Albuquerque TV station reported on it Wednesday evening. Murphy filed suit in August against the County, her estranged husband Cameron Murphy, former Los Alamos Police Department public service aide and animal shelter Debra Kramer and Kramer’s wife Carrie Gaston.
Murphy’s complaint filed Aug. 3 in First Judicial District Court in Santa Fe claims that in March, Gaston brought a dog named Pixel to the Los Alamos Animal Shelter and asked that an assessment be performed to consider taking the dog into the shelter. The complaint alleges that Gaston said the dog had been adopted from the Espanola Humane Society who had alleged advised her that because of the dog’s lack of socialization it would be euthanized if returned to the shelter. She claims Gaston requested that the Los Alamos shelter take the dog so it wouldn’t be euthanized.
The complaint indicates that Murphy assessed the dog and determined that the Espanola evaluation was correct and that the dog was not socialized within Los Alamos County guidelines and could not be accepted. She alleges that thereafter, Gaston and Kramer began a concerted effort to retaliate against her by getting her “fired on trumped up and false allegations of misconduct”.
The complaint goes on to say that in early 2018, Murphy surrendered a cat which she and Cameron Murphy owned, that he had abandoned the cat in January when they separated and had instructed her to take the cat to the shelter. When she surrendered the cat April 8, Murphy claims she used Cameron Murphy’s name and his last address in Los Alamos “as many other County employees and volunteers had done in the past. She said she owns property in Los Alamos and was entitled to surrender th cat to the shelter. She said the cat was adopted with two days and the County received the $50 fee for the adoption.
“unproperly socialized dog”. Murphy maintains Kramer went to Cameron Murphy and advised him to go to the shelter’s Facebook page and confirm that the cat he had abandoned was listed as being adopted. She maintains Kramer then asked Cameron Murphy to submit a records request to the County to obtain the records submitted by Victoria Murphy when she surrendered the cat and to “falsely claim that he had not given her authority to surrender the cat”
Murphy alleges that Kramer “spread many lies and rumors” about her “in order to push the false allegations forward and get her fired”. She claims Gaston “participated in the conspiracy” because she was angry Victoria Murphy had not accepted her dog and “because she wanted to get a job with the County after she had been fired from the animal shelter”.
Murphy’s complaint says on May 17 she received a notice of proposed termination and that in her appeal response and hearing she “rebutted every single basis for termination”. She says because the County had already determined to fire her for her protected activities, the County sent her a notice of is final decision which terminated her for “a new reason not stated in the notice of proposes action”.
“In retaliation for refusal to accept an unsafe dog, Los Alamos County fired her by relying on the false reports of a Los Alamos County employee who had retaliatory animus against her”, the suit states. It adds that the reasons given by the County for Murphy’s firing are pretextual and that the reason therefore was retaliatory.
Murphy alleges her actions related to matters of public concern “including compliance with County regulations and the safety of families who adopt dogs and the safety of other dogs and kennel workers”. She is seeking pecuniary damages and reinstatement to her former position alleging that Kramer, Gaston and Cameron Murphy “trumped up false charges against her to get her fired”.
The County and the other three defendants have asked for the case to be dismissed because it should have been filed in District Court for Los Alamos county.
In the City of Albuquerque situation, Murphy filed suit in July in Second Judicial District Court in Bernalillo however that case was dismissed and Murphy filed the newest case Oct. 22. This case stems from her employment with the City of Albuquerque Animal Welfare Department (AWD).
Murphy alleges that in July 2014 she communicated to her supervisor Barbara Bruin that she believed AWD was transferring and adopting out dangerously aggressive and unsocialized dogs. During this period, she alleges she also communicated her concerns to the staff of the Albuquerque Inspector General.
Murphy claims that shortly after, Bruin asked her to put her thoughts about the transfer and adoption of aggressive dogs in writing which she did in an email and that within a week of receiving the email Bruin fired her without explanation.
The complaint alleges that later investigation by the Inspector General revealed that Bruin and others were “engaged in a deliberate and systematic policy of retaliation against those who expressed concern about the County’s policy of adopting out unsafe dogs”. Murphy maintains no reasons were given for her firing and that it was in retaliation for her opposition to the City of Albuquerque’s policies with regard to animals.
Murphy’s complaint says the statute of limitations is toiled because under the discovery rule and because retaliation is still ongoing. She claims that she met with another employee who suffered retaliation and that he presented her with more than 200 pages of material in the investigation performed into the City’s retaliation against employees who protested the policy. She says only after speaking to the employee and obtaining actual evidence that the City had a policy and practice of retaliation against employees who protested the adoption of unsafe animals did she have any reason to suspect that the City’s motives for firing her were retaliation.
Murphy’s suit says at that time she went back to the her paperwork and discovered that she had been fired within a week of putting her opposition to the policies in writing at her supervisor’s request and realized it had been in violation of the Whistleblowers Act.
She accuses the City of fraudulent concealment because if “concealed its reasons for firing her and misled her about the reasons for her termination to prevent her from being rehired in retaliation for her protected activities”. She says this retaliation is also within the statute of limitations because it is still going on, that specifically in 2018 she applied to work for the City but the City refused to hire her based on adverse information in her employee file that had been placed there in retaliation.
Murphy alleges she offered to settle the dispute for $0 if the City would simply clear her employment file of the adverse information and make her eligible for rehire. She claims the City rejected the offer thereby refusing to stop retaliation against her as of Sept. 26. She is asking for the City’s practices to be declared unlawful, reinstatement of her employment, for the City to be enjoined from continuing to engage in unlawful employment practices and for damages and costs.
No hearing dates have been set in either case.