SANTA FE, N.M. – A jury of 12 has ordered the New Mexico Department of Health to pay a former employee $134,000 in lost pay and benefits she lost after being fired from her job for reporting alleged wrongdoing within the agency.
Jennifer Smith had been employed by the state health department for six years before she was fired in July 2012. She filed a whistleblower complaint against the department, alleging her supervisors harassed her and retaliated against her for calling out financial mismanagement within the HIV Services Program. Her allegations included failure to compensate providers, missing budget data, and failure to file reports with the federal government as the department was bound to do under law.
During the four-day trial, Ms. Smith’s lawyer argued that the plaintiff was fired because the Department of Health had retaliatory motives to do so. For instance, the department fired Ms. Smith just before the federal government began an audit of the agency.
“They got rid of the person who could have told the federal investigators what was going on,” her lawyer told the Albuquerque Journal.
The jury voted unanimously to award Ms. Smith $52,000 in lost wages, which is doubled under New Mexico law, plus $30,642 in lost benefits, attorney fees, and court costs.
“The jury system is the greatest system in the world,” Ms. Smith’s lawyer told the Albuquerque Journal. “The jury heard Jennifer’s case and felt the overall conclusion was that Jennifer was a whistle-blower who disclosed fraud in the system and because of that was fired.”