Tech professor files federal discrimination suit

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A former New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology assistant professor has filed a federal civil lawsuit against the college claiming employment discrimination on the basis of disability and retaliation.

Andrew Budek-Schmeisser, a Belen resident, filed the lawsuit, naming the board of regents as plaintiffs, in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque on Monday.

According to the lawsuit, the former assistant professor filed a charge of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and has received a notice of right to sue.

Thomas Guengerich, the public information officer for New Mexico Tech, said he couldn’t comment on pending litigation.

Budek-Schmeisser, who was hired in 2007 as an assistant professor and terminated in April 2011, claims in the lawsuit that during the first three years of his employment, he had received average, or above average, evaluations. He said he had a “heavy teaching load and also conducted research pursuant to grants he had obtained” on behalf of New Mexico Tech.

According to court documents, Budek-Schmeisser says he had complications from a 2002 gallbladder surgery, and was later diagnosed with chronic pancreatitis, which caused him pain. He says that in the fall of 2010, the disability became more debilitating, requiring him to use a wheelchair.

Budek-Schmeisser claims that in October 2010, he requested New Mexico Tech accommodate his disability, including repairing automatic doors to the building, removing the springs to the doors of his office and men’s bathroom so they wouldn’t close “hard and fast.”

He also requested assistance from a graduate student to assist in handing out materials in class and erasing the chalkboards.

The plaintiff alleges that in November 2010, the administration refused his requests “because of the costs involved.” Budek-Schmeisser says he was told the spring closures would be removed, but it was never done. He also claims that the college “didn’t have the funds to hire an assistant.”

On Dec. 16, 2010, Budek-Schmeisser received a request for his tenure evaluation packet to be completed by Jan. 15, 2011. But, he claims, he received an email changing the date to Jan. 3, 2011, and increasing the amount of requested information.

The lawsuit claims that according to the college’s policies, the findings of the tenure review committee was to be disclosed by Feb. 15, 2011. Budek-Schmeisser says he was never notified of any problems or concerns regarding his employment.

“In early April 2011, (Budek-Schmeisser) received several emails from his supervisor accusing him of being absent from campus and canceling his classes without authorization,” the lawsuit claims. “The allegations were untrue.”

On April 15, 2011, Budek-Schmeisser was notified he was being terminated on May 13, 2011. He said until then, he was under the impression he was to be retained as an associate professor.

Budek-Schmeisser alleges that the college was required to notify him on or before March 1, 2011, that he would not be retained for the 2011-12 academic year.

“Since (Budek-Schmeisser) was terminated without the one year notice, (his) ability to find alternative employment was severely limited,” the lawsuit says.

Budek-Schmeisser claims he should have been entitled to one year severance pay.

Another allegation Budek-Schmeisser claims is that he was injured while at work on April 18, 2011. He alleges that while attempting to enter a building, where, he claims, there was no ramp, he was injured while “trying to negotiate his wheelchair over uneven sidewalks,” and fell over backwards, injuring his back and neck.

Budek-Schmeisser alleges he has been discriminated against in violation of the American Disabilities Act. He is asking the court to award him compensatory damages, attorney’s fees and damages for his mental anguish and humiliation.

 


-- Email the author at cgarcia@news-bulletin.com.

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