Ex-librarian claims wrongful firing at college

Steve Garrison
San Juan College is being sued by a former librarian who claims he was wrongfully terminated.

FARMINGTON — A former librarian at San Juan College claims in a lawsuit he was wrongfully terminated from his position at the college due to false sexual harassment allegations.

Joseph Owen states in the lawsuit his employment at San Juan College was terminated in February after 14 years after a female coworker claimed he threatened, intimidated, stalked and harassed her.

Owen denies the allegations and claims he and the coworker maintained friendly relations. He said he was fired after a "cursory" investigation without progressive discipline or an effective opportunity to rebut the coworker's claims, the lawsuit states.

Owen said he was issued a letter of corrective action in January 2005 after he expressed "strong feelings" for another employee. He said he disclosed to the college then that his behavior was due in part to obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety and depression. Owen claims the university failed to take into account his known medical conditions in its decision to terminate him.

He said the termination was also due in part to the downturn in the local oil and gas industry, which forced the college to engage in "an active program of aggressive termination of its employees," according to the lawsuit.

He seeks unspecified damages for breach of contract, violation of the New Mexico Human Rights Act, intentional infliction of emotional distress and due process violations.

Owen filed his lawsuit July 1 in the Eleventh Judicial District. His attorney, Christian Hatfield, did not respond to a request for comment.

Owen remains listed as a reference librarian on the college's website.

Kerri Langoni, senior director of human relations for the college, said in a statement the college was restricted from commenting on personnel matters.

"However, please know that, as is the case with all personnel matters, the college is committed to adhering to internal policies and procedures, as well as all state and federal laws," Langoni said in the statement.

The college has not filed a response to the complaint.

Steve Garrison covers crime and courts. He can be reached at 505-564-4644.