A Democratic state senator who has gone toe-to-toe with leaders of his own party filed a formal discrimination complaint Monday against Senate President Pro Tem Mimi Stewart under the New Mexico Human Rights Act, a civil rights law.
Sen. Jacob Candelaria of Albuquerque alleges Stewart retaliated against him after he criticized the role she played in keeping a top-ranking legislative staffer on the job who was accused of making disparaging remarks about Native Americans and using a slur against a gay man.
“What has happened here is Mimi Stewart has abused her power as president pro tem to retaliate, and that is unlawful under the New Mexico Human Rights Act,” Candelaria, an attorney who practices civil rights law, said in a telephone interview after he filed the complaint.
“I intend to hold her accountable,” he said.
Stewart, also an Albuquerque Democrat, did not return a message seeking comment late Monday.
Candelaria claims Stewart changed his seating assignment on the Senate floor and moved his office in the Roundhouse from the second to the third floor in retaliation for his criticisms of what he called “her discriminatory employment and management actions” involving the director of the Legislative Education Study Committee.
“These actions were motivated, at least in part, by an unlawful desire to punish Mr. Candelaria for opposing Ms. Stewart’s otherwise conduct, and to otherwise deter any other persons from raising similar objections to Ms. Stewart’s conduct in the future,” wrote Candelaria, who said he is a member of a protected class as an openly gay and Hispanic man.
The legislative director, Rachel Gudgel, has been accused of mocking Native Americans and screaming a homophobic slur at a gay co-worker. Despite calls for her removal, Gudgel remains on the job, though she was suspended for two weeks. Last month, the 10 voting members of the committee deadlocked 5-5 on whether to fire Gudgel. Stewart was among the lawmakers who voted to keep Gudgel employed.
In his discrimination filing, Candelaria also accused Stewart of covering up the allegations against Gudgel for years “by ensuring that an employee evaluation, ordered in secret several years ago, was never shared with the members of the Senate or the public.”
The charge against Stewart is not in her legislative duty but in her administrative capacity, “where she has no immunity,” Candelaria said.
“The law cannot allow for the chief executive of the Senate to so brazenly and with such arrogance flout our state’s rules and laws regarding nondiscrimination and retaliation,” he said.
“At a more fundamental level, a person who is ossifying racial discrimination and homophobia in this institution under any theory of liability — myself as a civil rights lawyer who litigates Human Rights Act claims every single day — Senator Stewart is liable, and I do intend on seeing her in court,” he added.
As a matter of procedure, the discrimination complaint was filed with the Department of Workforce Solutions, which acknowledged receiving the document. Candelaria said he filed the complaint for the principle and integrity of the institution of the state Senate.
“As the first openly gay man in the Senate and in the Legislature in history, I feel I also have a special responsibility to file this charge and say that we are no longer going to turn a blind eye to this [expletive],” he said. “If you don’t want to say [expletive], I will say, ‘Turn a blind eye to egregious acts of discrimination in the workplace.’ ”