A veterinary assistant has filed a lawsuit against her former boss at the Animal Clinic on Cerrillos Road, accusing the veterinarian of sexual harassment and assault when she worked in his office last year.
The complaint, filed Nov. 7 in state District Court in Santa Fe on behalf of Kellie Brooke Varela, alleges Dr. Philip Hinko, 74, touched the woman “intentionally and offensively,” such as slapping her buttocks and fondling her genitals, and cursed at her. After she complained about the behavior, the lawsuit claims, Hinko first apologized and gave Varela a raise, and then fired her shortly after.
Court documents show Varela, 40, reported Hinko to police Dec. 10, 2018, the day she was fired.
Among her allegations, the lawsuit says, Varela told police that as she leaned over a desk one day, Hinko placed his hands between her thighs, over her clothing, and touched her vaginal area before pushing his fingers inside.
Hinko told a Santa Fe officer he remembered the incident and “claims he accidentally touched Ms. Varela’s vagina” after “trying to pat her on the back for doing a good job at work,” according to a police report.
The officer wrote he also listened to an audio recording of a conversation between Varela and Hinko in which the doctor acknowledges the incident and “the fact he slaps the buttocks of other females at the office.”
Another former employee of Hinko, Josette Vigil-Rivera, filed a police report making similar allegations, according to documents the Santa Fe Police Department submitted to the First Judicial District Attorney’s Office. Vigil-Rivera, who has died, accused Hinko of grabbing her buttocks and breasts while she worked, police reports say.
No criminal charges have been filed against Hinko.
A Santa Fe police spokesman said the agency determined Varela’s claims were “unfounded,” largely because there was no security video of the incident.
Henry Varela, a spokesman for District Attorney Marco Serna, said the police department submitted the case to Serna’s office “without a finding of probable cause and without sufficient evidence to support a felony offense.” He added, “The facts supported a petty misdemeanor battery offense, which is charged and prosecuted by the officer” rather than the District Attorney’s Office.
Kellie Brooke Varela’s lawyer, Erin Sanchez, said in an interview: “It’s 2019 — it’s ridiculous that women still have to put up with this behavior.”
Hinko did not respond to requests for comment.
Kellie Brooke Varela alleges in her lawsuit that Hinko’s bad behavior started shortly after she began working at the clinic on Oct. 18, 2018. The next day, according to the lawsuit, Hinko told her he wanted to put a sign on her forehead with an offensive word after she misplaced a file, and also he said he wanted “to marry her because of some mutual sports interests.”
Around Oct. 24, the suit says, he slapped Varela’s behind as she wrote prescriptions for clients. “In response to the slap, she told him not to touch her bottom.” Varela alleges the slapping continued several times until Dec. 7. She says she saw Hinko slap or grab other vet technicians as well.
The genital touching happened just after Thanksgiving, Varela says.
She complained to Hinko in a phone call, according to the lawsuit, and he apologized for his behavior. He also increased her pay, she says. But days later, he began to curse at her, and then he fired her Dec. 10.