Official: Evidence shows bias at Luna

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By David Giuliani

The head of a state agency has determined that a former Luna Community College employee has enough evidence to show he was a victim of discrimination.

On May 20, Francie Cordova, director of the state Human Rights Division, issued a “probable cause” determination in the case of Hans Kuss, a former Luna student services counselor.

The discrimination was based on race, national origin and retaliation, Cordova states.

In light of her ruling, Cordova is asking both Luna and Kuss to meet and reach some sort of settlement. But if not, the agency would schedule a hearing for October.

Kuss’ attorney, Stephen Peterson of Taos, said Tuesday that he would consult with his client before determining their next move.

He said with most such cases, the state doesn’t issue “probable cause” findings.

In October, Sigfredo Maestas, Luna’s interim president, fired Kuss, who is now working as a grant coordinator at Mesalands Community College in Tucumcari.

Kuss was credited for playing a major role in getting a federal grant of $2.8 million to finance distance education programs at Luna for the next five years. Kuss was a finalist for Luna’s presidency, but the Board of Trustees passed over him in favor of Las Vegas City Schools Superintendent Pete Campos, who is also a state senator.

According to his termination letter, Kuss, the former president of Maysville Community and Technical College in Kentucky, “became angry and abruptly” left a meeting about the grant in September, which Maestas wrote constituted insubordination and a reason for dismissal.

Kuss said the meeting was “going south” and that Maestas granted his request to be excused.

The meeting in which he left focused, in part, on a procurement violation, in which a consultant hired to get the grant received more than what the state code allows without advertising a request for bid proposals.

Kuss, who started in February 2007, said former interim President Gilbert Sena should have presented the agreement for the consultant at a Board of Trustees meeting but didn’t.

Also, Kuss said the meeting addressed the question of his compensation as project director for the grant. He confirmed that he made a mistake in his salary compensation that would have given him more money.

Shortly after his firing, Kuss, who is Anglo and Jewish, said he would file a discrimination complaint with the state, saying bigoted statements had been made about him.

According to Cordova’s probable cause letter, witnesses told the state that Kuss was called racial names. The letter states that Kuss went to the human resources director on Oct. 2 to state that he didn’t want to work with a certain school official because of racial comments. But the state couldn’t find any evidence that Luna conducted an immediate investigation as stated in its equal-employment opportunity policy, according to the letter.

Two days later, Maestas informed Kuss by letter that he could be terminated and that a hearing would be scheduled. Luna didn’t have to hold that hearing because Kuss was a probationary employee.

Maestas, who couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday, has said before that he couldn’t discuss personnel matters. But he has said that Kuss’ departure was unrelated to the presidential search.