Speeding along Cerrillos Road after a long day of work, her mind lost in desperation over troubles with her boss — the endless text messages, the unwanted sexual advances, the nitpicking of her work after she told him to stop — Sonya Quintana suddenly realized a truck was stopped in front of her. Too late to brake, she slammed into its rear bumper, totaling her car.
No one was injured in the October 2013 accident. But for Quintana, who was human resources director for the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish at the time, the collision provided what she called a “moment of clarity.”
“My first thought after the accident was I could never go back to the department,” Quintana recalled.
Speaking publicly for the first time since settling a sexual harassment complaint out of court with the state in 2014, Quintana’s story provides a disturbing window into a state agency that, by several accounts, became a nightmare for some employees working under the leadership of James “Jim” S. Lane Jr., its former director. Lane resigned from the agency nine days after Quintana’s lawyer, Diane Garrity, sent a stinging letter to the office of Gov. Susana Martinez detailing Quintana’s allegations. Another state agency later hired him for a high-level position before news of Quintana’s complaint became public.
Her story also illustrates the internal struggle government workers — or any workers — face in coming forward with allegations against high-level officials, and confusion over whom they can turn to when the head of an agency is the person accused. While the state has regulations in place to protect workers from harassment, employees who find themselves in such situations, like Quintana, often aren’t convinced those policies are enough to help them keep or switch their jobs.
Fears of retaliation, of being blackballed from longtime positions they love and of damaging their chances for a full pension all factor into the emotional equation.
Details of Quintana’s allegations were supported by public records, recordings she made and interviews by The New Mexican with current and former Game and Fish employees.
Civil rights cases and settlements in cases like Quintana’s cost the state millions every year. In fiscal year 2015 alone, the state paid out more than $15 million in civil rights claims and settlements. That was despite efforts to prevent harassment, including an annual online training for staff and the hiring of 56 more mediators to help resolve employee complaints and disputes, according to the state Risk Management Division.
Quintana, a single mother, had been with the Department of Game and Fish for 19 years, working her way up from secretary to head of the agency’s personnel department before Lane became director.
“He should never have been director,” Quintana told The New Mexican in her only interview since the state settled with her for $65,000 in January 2014 to avoid a lawsuit. The state Risk Management Division, which typically must make settlements public 180 days after they are reached, waited more than a year before releasing Quintana’s agreement for reasons the division has never explained.
Lane did not return multiple phone messages seeking comment that were left for him at a Rio Rancho address listed as his residence or at a Kentucky number belonging to a family member.
Quintana agreed to speak with The New Mexican after learning the settlement was now publicly available, in hopes that others will learn from her experience. She asked that her photograph not appear in the newspaper. Quintana said the money from the settlement two years ago didn’t make up for the anguish she and others went through during and after Lane’s tenure. She also has misgivings about not reporting Lane’s conduct sooner out of fear of losing her job.
“It tests everything you think you know about yourself to get through a situation like that,” she said, as tears rolled down her face.
A changing environment
Quintana was in college when she landed a secretary job with Game and Fish in 1994.
“I never imagined I would work anywhere else,” the Santa Fe native said. “I thought I would retire from there.”
She rose to become the head of human resources, and she had one boss for 13 years. “I felt I could express my opinion,” Quintana recalled. “We could get into heated disagreements, but I never felt threatened or harassed.”
That changed in 2011 when the governor-appointed New Mexico State Game Commission promoted Lane to be the agency’s director. Lane, a former wildlife manager with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, had joined the New Mexico agency in 2009 as a wildlife manager. When the director’s position came open, he beat out three other applicants, each of whom were longtime agency employees. One was Dan Brooks, who later became Lane’s deputy director.
Quintana and other former agency employees interviewed by The New Mexican said that weeks before the seven members of the State Game Commission even began interviewing the director candidates, Lane boasted that he knew the job was already his.
Almost overnight, after Lane became director, the once cozy atmosphere changed. Lane made it clear “he needed to be able to trust me, and anyone he didn’t trust he would fire,” Quintana said.
Lane reorganized the department, gutting the Conservation Services Division and moving those employees to other divisions. While it isn’t unusual to make changes when taking over a state agency, Lane’s purpose was clear. He told media that he thought services for hunters and anglers — the department’s financial bread and butter — needed more attention and conservationists needed less.
“The organizational structure is a little broken right now,” Lane told a reporter at the Livestock Weekly in 2012, “but we’re in the process, I think, of fixing it.”
While Quintana didn’t like the way Lane was shuffling employees and divisions, she knew it was his prerogative. She said nothing, but she was becoming troubled by some of his actions. Once, for example, he told her not to tell her direct boss, Pat Block, about two employees receiving different penalties for the same infraction. Lane told her the reason for the difference was that one of the employees was “on the the team” and the other wasn’t.
Lane became known for rhetorically asking who he could fire that day. No one thought he was joking, Quintana said.
At one point toward the end of Lane’s tenure, the department lost more than 30 people in a three-month period. Some resigned, some retired, others transferred to other agencies or left to private-sector jobs. “We had people leaving left and right,” she said.
When a former employee told a television news reporter Lane was commuting in his state-owned vehicle to his home in Rio Rancho against state policy, Lane ordered all phone records to be checked to make sure no one else in the department had spoken to the reporter. He said he would fire them if they had, according to the letter Diane Garrity — Quintana’s lawyer — later sent to the Governor’s Office.
Lane then ordered Alexa Sandoval, the agency’s chief financial officer at the time, to purchase another state vehicle with an “undercover license plate” and used removable state vehicle decals to hide his continued violation of state rules, according to the letter from Garrity.
Sandoval told The New Mexican that she and others warned Lane that using the state-purchased vehicle to commute was against policy unless approved by the Governor’s Office.
The Governor’s Office declined to say whether it had approved Lane’s use of a state vehicle.
When a spokesperson’s job came open, Lane told Quintana in front of her immediate boss that “in Kentucky, we called that position the token ovary,” according to the letter.
In a written account of events Quintana gave to her lawyer, Quintana recalled that when she took a list of applicants for the director’s secretary to Lane, he told her to only bring the résumés of female applicants for him to review. “What are you going to say when they ask you why we only interviewed women?” Quintana said he asked her. She said she didn’t think anyone would ask why.
In April 2013, Game and Fish employee Angela Smith filed a claim against the agency for retaliation, sexual harassment and a hostile work environment. The allegations did not involve Lane, but he reacted strongly. “She is a crazy bitch and I want her fired,” Quintana recalled him saying in front of her and other employees. She said he ordered cameras installed to observe Smith at her desk.
A few weeks later, when discussing his newly hired secretary, Quintana said Lane told her, “I am going to have to watch myself around you and her. Women have always been my weakness.” Lane, who was married, went on to discuss his marital problems with Quintana, according to Garrity’s letter.
Quintana said Lane authorized the use of secret recording devices to record employee conversations without their knowledge.
“I advised Dan Brooks (deputy director) that we could not record employees for no reason,” Quintana reported. “It is against the law.” She said Brooks replied that as a law enforcement agency, they could record employees.
Brooks did not respond to emails sent requesting comment, and The New Mexican was unable to reach him by phone at three different numbers.
These problems aside, Quintana said Lane did not make sexual overtures to her early on. But text messages and emails from him often made her uncomfortable and became more and more suggestive throughout that summer.
On June 12, 2013, for example, he texted her at 8:38 p.m. “Hey punk. How was your day? I am going to kick your ass for ignoring me. Get ready. Go ahead and fill out the violence in the workplace paperwork. And the hostile work environment claim.”
“Hi boss! Sorry I was having a glass of wine,” she finally texted back.
The jovial texts went back and forth for a couple of hours. She says now she should have told him the texts bothered her, but at the time, she worried about getting on his bad side.
As the human resources director, Quintana was the person other employees were supposed to come to with harassment and personnel complaints. She was supposed to have the answers. Yet in her own case — dealing with an agency head she believed to be well-connected in the governor’s administration — she felt helpless.
“You can preach all day that this is what you should do in this situation. I really never thought that this would happen or that it would have this much of an impact on my life,” she said. “It’s not easy to report. And when you do, you are viewed differently.”
She told her immediate boss, Pat Block, about the text messages and some of Lane’s hiring practices that were making her uncomfortable. He advised her to keep the text messages. She said she told Block she knew he couldn’t say anything to Lane “because if he doesn’t like it, you will get fired.” She told Block she was stressed and tired of losing employees.
Block, who retired from the Department of Game and Fish after Lane’s departure, confirmed Quintana’s version of the events but declined to talk further.
In her written account of events, Quintana said that in early July 2013, Lane came to her office to discuss work. Then he told her, “It took a lot of courage for me to come in here. I want you to know that I am wildly attracted to you.” Quintana said she stayed quiet, while he continued to tell her how he felt about her. Then he left.
A couple of days later, she told Lane that another state department was seeking a reference for Angela Smith, the employee who had filed the harassment complaint and other complaints against the agency and was later terminated. Quintana said Lane called the Governor’s Office, and she overheard him say, “You know that crazy lady that was fired from our agency and filed a complaint with you. Well she applied for a job with CYFD,” referring to the state’s Children, Youth & Famiies Department.
After hanging up, Lane told her that “she will not be working for CYFD or any other state agency.” Quintana said it was this and other similar situations that made her wonder if Lane had influence over other state officials and made her afraid to cross him.
Asked if the Governor’s Office received such a phone call, spokesman Mike Lonergan said the office does not get involved in cases involving classified employees.
Smith, reached by phone at her new federal job in Texas, said she was blackballed from state jobs in New Mexico after she filed her complaints against Game and Fish, which the state did not substantiate.
In her written account, Quintana described a day in late July when she went to then-Deputy Director Brooks’ office to review a job description. Lane was there, got up, stepped behind her and began rubbing her shoulders, she said. Brooks pretended not to see, she said.
“There were so many things that so many people were ignoring at so many levels,” she said.
The text messages, meanwhile, became more overtly sexual.
On Aug. 7, Lane sent Quintana a text saying, “You are beautiful and impress me. I want you…. Wow. There it is.”
Later that month, he ordered her to attend a State Game Commission meeting in Grants. Quintana had not been to a commission meeting in 15 years. She asked Lane how she should prepare, according to Garrity’s letter. Lane told her the commissioners wouldn’t “even be listening to what you are saying.”
“They’re going to be more interested in how pretty you are.”
On the eve of the meeting, Lane texted her at 11:45 p.m. while she was in her hotel room.
“You know. We can put this tension behind us,” he wrote. She did not reply.
“Hello?” he tried again.
“You will enjoy.”
“I know 2 things. You are awake. And. We need some face time.”
“Your call, but please do not leave me hanging. I have been waiting for this for 2 plus years. If you say no, sigh. But let me know. Please,” he texted. “I really want to wake up with you tomorrow.”
“Go to hell?”
“I am infatuated.”
The messages kept coming, 22 by the time they stopped just before 4 a.m.
The next morning, he tried once more.
“You totally blew me off. Crushed.”
He later asked her to drive home with him. She refused, but said she tried to keep things light, bantering with him as usual.
“When things were wrong, I wanted to immediately say, ‘this is wrong, stop,’ ” Quintana said. “You feel like the words are there and you know what you should be saying, but it’s not that easy when it’s your boss, the boss of everyone. It’s not that easy.”
When Quintana finally confronted him and asked that their relationship remain professional, Lane was apologetic, according to a recording of the conversation Quintana secretly made.
“I stepped over a line that I shouldn’t have stepped over,” he said. “That’s OK. That doesn’t affect work. We can call that behind us.”
Quintana hoped everything would blow over.
“In my mind, I would keep doing my job, working hard. We would put it all behind us and move on,” she said. “That’s not what happened at all.”
Instead, she said, she began to see signs that he was preparing to fire her. He was cold to her, extra critical of her work and stopped including her in meetings, she said.
“Since her refusal to have sex with Director Lane, her work atmosphere has been intolerable,” Quintana’s lawyer later said in her letter to the governor, which alleged Lane told Quintana that he could have another employee “crushed,” “with one phone call to Gene Moser,” then director of state personnel.
Quintana started looking for other state jobs in order to keep her pension, but stopped. She worried Lane would find out. She didn’t know how high Lane’s connections went in state government and worried he could influence other state offices not to hire her. “I was afraid if he knew I was looking for work, then I would be fired,” Quintana said.
Moser told The New Mexican that Lane “had no influence with me whatsoever.” Moser said he didn’t know Lane prior to him becoming the Game and Fish director.
Quintana wasn’t the only employee to have problems with Lane. Two other retired employees witnessed some of the incidences and behaviors Quintana detailed in her complaint, but asked to remain anonymous because of their current jobs and fears of retaliation.
Alexa Sandoval, who is now the director of Game and Fish, acknowledged she had her own run-ins with Lane while she was chief financial officer.
“It is no secret that I didn’t like or agree with Jim Lane’s direction of the department,” Sandoval, a 22-year veteran of the agency, said in an email. “There were many issues that I brought up with him personally and, before he left the department, I considered filing a sexual harassment and hostile work environment suit against him. I decided not to pursue the case because I was concerned it would negatively impact my future career path and if made public, burden my family.”
“Ultimately, these and other issues were brought to the attention of the Commission, an outside investigation was launched immediately, and Jim Lane resigned,” Sandoval said. “Because of this action, things at the department have improved dramatically.”
While the state has regulations in place to protect state employees who are harassed or retaliated against in their jobs, there is no single agency where employees can go to resolve complaints, according to the State Personnel Department and Risk Management Division. Instead, different departments have jurisdiction over different complaints, creating a confusing maze for employees to navigate at the same time they are worried about speaking out against a boss.
“The Department of Workforce Solutions Human Rights Division has jurisdiction to address any violations of the State’s Human Rights Act and shares jurisdiction over many claims with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission,” wrote Joseph Cueto, spokesman for the State Personnel Office, in an email. “In addition … employees may report issues to state personnel, Risk Management Division, and the Attorney General’s Office, or the hiring authority for the individual in question.”
Quintana admits she didn’t exhaust every avenue available for filing a complaint with the state. Based on what she had seen and heard while Lane was in charge, she felt trapped, worried he had connections higher up in the state and that, in the end, she would be penalized for speaking out.
“It is you against the state,” Quintana said. “They protect their own.”
Quintana hired attorney Garrity in early September to seek advice on what she should do. Garrity advised her to clearly tell Lane to stop making advances. Quintana did so in mid-September. But she felt her job was still on the line.
Overcome with worry, she wrecked her car. She went on medical leave to avoid facing Lane and in hopes of keeping her job.
Garrity, on Oct. 18, 2013, filed a six-page letter to the governor’s counsel detailing Quintana’s allegations.
Garrity wrote that the State Game Commission, Brooks and other high-level managers failed to act “after it was clear Lane was not following workplace rules and looked the other way when Lane began his sexual harassment of Sonya. As a result, the employees and appointees with the power and authority to stop Lane, allowed and tolerated his harassment, bullying and violations of state law with impunity. All avenues to complain were shut off.”
The state hired Leroy Lucero of Caswell Investigations to review allegations made by Quintana against Lane. Caswell was one of seven companies approved by the New Mexico Risk Management Division to support investigation of tort claims. The agency said the investigator’s report was confidential under attorney-client privilege and said it had no other tort claims filed against Jim Lane.
Like ‘a gun to your head’
Lane resigned nine days after Garrity sent the letter, but neither he nor the state would say why. His career with state government, however, wasn’t over.
On March 25, 2015, New Mexico State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn hired Lane to fill a newly created $92,000-a-year job as assistant commissioner for special projects.
“I am extremely excited about joining Commissioner Dunn’s team and look forward to helping him move the State Land Office forward,” Lane said in a news release announcing the appointment.
His new job might have lasted, but six months later, the Albuquerque Journal, which had received copies of Garrity’s letter and the text messages, wrote a story about Quintana’s sexual harassment allegations. Garrity said she doesn’t know who leaked the information to the Journal.
A spokeswoman for Dunn at the time said that when the State Land Office conducted a background check before hiring Lane, Game and Fish did not turn over any records related to the sexual harassment allegations.
Joseph Cueto, spokesman for the State Personnel Office, told The New Mexican in an email, “It’s standard operating procedure for any agency to contact references and review a candidate’s personnel file during the application review process.”
Moser, former director of the State Personnel Office, said the state had no control over either the Game and Fish director position or Lane’s job at the State Land Office, as both jobs were exempt. When Dunn hired Lane at the State Land Office, Moser was not consulted. “If my opinion had been asked, I would have said, ‘No, don’t hire him,’ ” Moser said.
After the Journal report, Dunn asked Lane to resign, but he did not mention the allegations of sexual harassment or improper use of a state vehicle in his statement to the media at the time. Instead, Dunn blamed the Governor’s Office and “dirty politics” for releasing Lane’s personnel information to the media.
The State Land Office was in the midst of renegotiating a yearly contract with the Department of Game and Fish to allow licensed hunters access to millions of acres of state trust land. Dunn wanted to quadruple the fee the state game department paid. Some hunters thought it was in retaliation for what had happened between Lane and the department.
Asked for comment again recently about Lane’s brief tenure at the New Mexico State Land Office, Emily Strickler, a spokeswoman for the office, said in an email that the agency does not comment on personnel matters involving current or former employees.
Officials with the State Personnel Department and the Risk Management Division did not directly respond to questions about how Lane could be hired at another state office and whether or not there was a method in place for alerting a state agency if a potential hire was already under the cloud of a civil rights violation in another state department.
The state says it takes civil rights violations seriously.
“Ensuring that state employees have a positive work environment where they feel safe and understand their rights is critical to our mission and something we take very seriously, which is why we require regular and mandatory training for our workforce,” said Cueto, spokesman for the New Mexico State Personnel Office.
Quintana found a job with Santa Fe County after her car accident in 2013. She took an $8-an-hour cut in pay, but she was happy to have a job.
“Your job is your livelihood,” she said. “It’s how you pay your mortgage, your insurance, your car payment. When something like this happens, it’s like someone holding a gun to your head.”
Contact Staci Matlock at 505-986-3055 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @StaciMatlock.