A former employee of PNM Resources, the parent company of Public Service Company of New Mexico, has filed a new lawsuit against the firm, accusing it of violating the state Human Rights Act by fostering a hostile work environment that led to discrimination, sexual harassment, assault and retaliation.
The suit, filed Wednesday in state District Court in Santa Fe, alleges paralegal Yvonne Ulibarri, who worked for PNM Resources from 1995 until she was fired earlier this month, suffered a pattern of abuse in recent years in which her supervisor, attorney Leonard Sanchez, harassed and physically attacked her.
In late April, the complaint says, Ulibarri sent a letter to PNM President and CEO Pat Vincent-Collawn about Sanchez’s behavior, and she was abruptly fired May 15.
PNM spokesman Ray Sandoval said he couldn’t comment on the lawsuit.
Sanchez could not be reached for comment.
Ulibarri’s attorney, Timothy Butler, said Ulibarri informed the company’s management over a period of several years “that she believed she was enduring a fairly continuous pattern and practice of harassment.
“Rather than sufficiently dealing with problem,” he said, PNM “in essence ratified or condoned the conduct.”
In her complaint, Ulibarri alleges that as early as 2007, PNM was alerted by departing employees that Sanchez’s behavior as a supervisor was demeaning, hostile and abusive. He made frequent comments to other worker about Ulibarri, accusing her of engaging in sexual activity in the office, the suit says. It also alleges he stood over her while she worked at her desk and positioned his chair during meetings in a way that allowed him to stare at her.
In August 2014 after Ulibarri was assigned to work directly under Sanchez, the complaint says, she filed a formal complaint of sexual harassment and a hostile work environment to a human resources director.
But the behavior didn’t stop, according to the suit: In October 2017, it says, Sanchez assaulted Ulibarri in a break room.
After the incident, Ulibarri says she enlisted security guards to escort her to her desk each morning because she feared another physical attack. About a week later, the lawsuit says Ulibarri was waiting in an elevator with a security guard when Sanchez entered and became angry and argumentative. The guard demanded he leave, the suit says, and PNM denied further requests from Ulibarri for a guard escort.
Butler said Ulibarri was not the only female employee fired from PNM’s legal department May 15.
“They terminated two female attorneys,” he said, “Mrs. Ulibarri, and another female attorney or paralegal on the same day.”
He said the utility claimed the terminations were due to a reorganization effort.
“I would think that’s not the normal restructuring process that a large company goes through,” Butler said. “It was so abrupt. It is our understanding that along with Mrs. Ulibarri, all these individuals had raised complaints.”