A former Santa Fe city employee has filed a civil lawsuit alleging she was sexually assaulted by a longtime employee at the Genoveva Chavez Community Center, causing severe emotional trauma. She also claims the city did not do enough to address her complaints as coworkers retaliated against her.
The former recreation coordinator at the Chavez Center, who was fired in August, claims a male building supervisor assaulted her at the workplace twice in late 2016 and early 2017.
The supervisor, Bernie Garcia, touched the recreation coordinator’s breasts and aggressively kissed her, according to the woman’s complaint, filed last week in state District Court, which describes the purported assaults in detail.
Between the alleged incidents, the man hounded the woman, Shannon Ridgeway, on the center’s radio system, “asking for her location,” the complaint states. Ridgeway would hide from him under the conference room table and in the women’s restroom, according to her lawsuit. She said she was afflicted with panic attacks and suicidal ideation. Her suit names Garcia and the city as defendants.
Garcia, who retired last December, denied the allegations in a brief phone interview Monday.
“I didn’t touch her,” he said. “I didn’t do nothing to that girl.”
Asked why the employee would invent the stories about him, he said he didn’t know.
“I was the only guy that really helped her,” he said. “Nobody [at the Chavez Center] helped her at all. So I was shocked when they told me about that.”
According to her complaint, Ridgeway raised the issue with her managers and requested that she be transferred to another facility. The city initiated an independent investigation but denied a transfer, instead amending her schedule at the Chavez Center because the male employee “had seniority,” the complaint states.
An Albuquerque investigator contracted by the city determined Ridgeway’s complaints to be “inconclusive,” writing that although there were “no significant discrepancies” of Ridgeway’s account, there was no additional evidence to either support or discredit her claims or Garcia’s denials.
The investigator wrote Ridgeway considered Garcia a friend. “It appears he was her closest coworker,” the investigator wrote, adding that it would “not make sense” for her to file a false claim against a colleague she liked.
Ridgeway claims she was subjected to a hostile work environment at the Chavez Center because Garcia, who was ultimately transferred to another facility before his retirement, was well-liked.
She also asserts she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder stemming from the alleged assaults.
Ridgeway’s complaint states she was fired this fall for violating the city’s timekeeping policy. In her complaint, she contends this rationale was “retaliation” for her continued insistence that she had been assaulted by Garcia and subsequently sexually harassed by a regular patron of the Chavez Center.
Ridgeway is seeking reinstatement with double back pay and compensatory damages including those for lost wages.
A city spokesman said the city could not comment on pending litigation but said the city takes such allegations seriously.
“We want our employees to feel safe and comfortable at work and to be fully heard should any claims come up,” said Matt Ross. “That’s our approach in every case, including this one, and we will continue to hold our employees to a high standard of respect for their colleagues.”
The case was assigned to Judge Raymond Z. Ortiz.