Ex-Luna employees filed bias lawsuit

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By David Giuliani

A former Luna Community College employee has sued the school, alleging it systematically discriminates against Anglos.

Hans Kuss, a former Luna student services counselor, is claiming institutional racism that includes discrimination against all non-Hispanics who attend or are employed by the college. The defendants are Luna and its former interim president, Sigfredo Maestas.

The lawsuit, filed Sept. 29, states that shortly after Luna hired Kuss in early 2007, an official took Kuss out to dinner and continually emphasized that Kuss was Anglo.

During his employment, Kuss, who is represented by Taos attorney Stephen Peterson, maintains that he was almost daily referred to by various employees as “the white man.”

Kuss secured a large grant for the college and was specifically listed as the project director in the grant award notification letter, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit contends that it’s the practice of Luna and other educational institutions to provide more money to employees who secure and administer grant funds. After he got the grant, Kuss maintains that he was referred to as the “Anglo that laid the golden egg.”

The lawsuit states that one official told Kuss that the school didn’t need a program “written by a white man for Hispanics in New Mexico.”

On Sept. 27, 2007, Luna held a meeting about the grant. During the session, then-interim President Sigfredo Maestas told Kuss that he would not receive more money for his procurement of the grant.

“The plaintiff, frustrated and disappointed by the turnabout, ex-pressed by (Maestas) asked permission to leave the meeting, which permission was granted,” the lawsuit states.

On Oct. 2, 2007, Kuss filed an internal complaint with Luna’s human resources director about the official who told him the school didn’t need a grant written by a white man. Two days later, Kuss received a notice that Luna planned to fire him for his alleged insubordination, according to the lawsuit.

A pretermination meeting was held, but the lawsuit maintains that his lawyer wasn’t able to question any witnesses, including Maestas, nor could he call any witnesses.

After the hearing, Maestas fired Kuss.

According to the termination letter, Maestas stated that Kuss “became angry and abruptly” left the meeting about the grant, which the school considered insubordination and a reason for dismissal.

In May, Francie Cordova, director of the state Human Rights Division, issued a “probable cause” determination, saying the agency had determined that there was enough evidence to show Kuss was the victim of discrimination. The discrimination was based on race, national origin and retaliation.

Cordova requested the two sides meet and reach a settlement. If not, she said the agency would schedule a hearing for this month.

In the case before the Human Rights Division, Kuss was able to get affidavits and testimony from other employees who alleged a pattern of discrimination.

A student government leader contended that she was regularly referred to as the “white girl.” Another employee said she heard an official state that he disliked Anglos, according to the lawsuit.

“We don’t need any more white people in this area — and for sure not at the college. We need to hire our own. I’m gonna see to it that we hire more Hispanics instead of those white people,” the official allegedly said.

A Hispanic employee signed an affidavit in which she heard an official call Kuss a Nazi, the lawsuit states. In fact, Kuss is Jewish and of German descent.

The lawsuit includes a statement from a former Hispanic official at Highlands University, who alleged an atmosphere of institutional racism at Luna.

Tony Ortiz, an attorney who is representing Luna, said the school wouldn’t comment on Kuss’ lawsuit.

“One reason is that there are a number of privacy rights with involved employees, and the second reason is that ultimately, we think the correct forum for hearing the matter is in the courtroom,” he said. “We do expect to prevail.”

Kuss is a former president of Maysville Community and Technical College in Kentucky. He was a candidate for Luna president last year, but he was passed over.

He is now the grant coordinator at Mesalands Community College in Tucumcari.