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Former worker settles suit against county

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County: Allegations result in payout of $175K

By John Severance

Los Alamos County settled with former Parks and Recreation employee Melody Cross for $175,000 after Cross filed two lawsuits in the First Judicial District Court with the complaint for infliction of emotional distress, prima facie tort, battery and punitive damages.

According to court documents, Cross was employed as a senior office specialist with the parks division. Defendants Los Alamos County, Richard McIntyre and Randy Lucero denied all of the allegations in the suit.

But the county still paid up.

Cross and James Sullivan, an attorney representing Los Alamos County signed an out-of-court release and settlement agreement Aug. 16.

County Administrator Harry Burgess, who was hired a year ago in November, said Thursday, “It was a settlement negotiated by our insurance carrier. It was not during a normal settlement conference. We were informed of the settlement after the fact.”

Burgess said there was no ruling on the accusations leveled by Cross against McIntyre, parks division manager for the county and Lucero who was acting parks superintendent at the time.

“We don’t believe them to be true. That is the county’s position. The accusations were not valid. I can’t say anything specific about the case because it’s a personnel issue.”

According to Cross’ attorney, Pierre Levy, the case is closed by a confidentiality agreement therefore he could not comment on case specifics either.

“It was a compromise settlement and everybody agreed to it,” Levy said. “I assume if everybody agreed to it, everybody was happy about the settlement.”

The released parties (the county, McIntyre and Lucero) signed the agreement, which is not an admission of fault or wrongdoing on their part.

The settlement, obtained by the Los Alamos Monitor, reads, “To the extent provided by law, the terms and settlement amounts as set forth in the release are strictly confidential.”

This marks the second settlement by the county with one of its former employees this year. Former assistant county administrator Diana Stepan and the county also agreed to an $800,000 settlement.

Cross’ complaint, detailed in court documents, chronicles her employment with the county.

She was hired in 2003 and worked in the parks division.

According to the complaint, McIntyre subjected Cross to “constant and repeated intentional abuse and harassment.”

Among the many allegations in the court documents, McIntyre threw temper tantrums, allowed and encouraged lockerroom talk in front of Cross, reprimanded Cross for complaining to then-Community Services Director Stephani Johnson about his behavior and telling Cross she always needed to go through him first, regardless of the situation.

Also alleged in the court filings, Cross repeatedly objected to the behavior and reported it to the Human Resources Department. The court document stated, “Los Alamos County did nothing and allowed McIntyre’s behavior to continue.”

The documents state that Cross first complained about McIntyre’s behavior in 2006.

Another one of Cross’ supervisors was Lucero, the acting parks superintendent for Los Alamos County.

Beginning in the spring of 2007, court documents said that Lucero started touching Cross, while at work, in an offensive, unwelcome manner.

Court documents then listed 10 different examples of how Lucero, who no longer works for the parks division according to the county website, made Cross feel uncomfortable. One of the examples states that Lucero touched Cross by walking up behind her and licking her neck.

Court documents said that Lucero engaged in other sexually explicit behavior, despite Cross’ repeated protests that he stop.  Documents go on to say that Lucero engaged in this behavior on a daily basis.

Cross complained to HR again September of 2008 and court documents say that Lucero’s behavior abated. But Lucero continued to come up to Cross and touch her arm with his arm in an unwelcome and offensive manner. The court documents state that Cross perceived Lucero’s continued touching of her as sexual advances, which she said she had repeatedly and constantly rejected.

After Cross made another trip to HR, court documents state that McIntyre further retaliated by removing Cross from her position in the Parks Department and forcing her to accept another, lesser position within the county.