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Friday, November 28, 2014

Former coach sues UNM, Locksley

Let the legal showdown begin.

As promised — and expected — former UNM wide receivers coach J.B. Gerald has filed a lawsuit against head football coach Mike Locksley, in response to the physical altercation that took place on Sept. 20.

Dennis Montoya, the New Mexico-based attorney representing Gerald, filed the lawsuit, which names Locksley and UNM’s Board of Regents, in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque on Friday. Gerald will pursue compensation as part of the suit.

All of the accusations reported by the Daily Lobo early in the week are present in the complaint, including personal injury, race discrimination and retaliation against Gerald’s First Amendment rights. In addition, the complaint states that Gerald was allegedly told by University officials that his future coaching prospects would be affected if he persisted complaining about Locksley’s behavior.

When reached by phone early Saturday, Montoya said the University failed to take reasonable action against Locksley, only assigning him a one-game, unpaid suspension.

“This was treated as, ‘This is a thing between you blacks,’” Montoya said. “ … When an African American is in a career that he or she likes in athletics, (there’s the attitude) that ‘Boys will be boys,’ and they should not rock the boat if they are treated in a completely unacceptable manner.”

In saying it had yet to receive a copy of Gerald’s complaint Saturday, the University said in a statement through UNM spokeswoman Susan McKinsey that it “will vigorously defend itself and its employees against these claims.” The University added that the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s investigation into Gerald’s charges failed to establish that the University violated the law.

Montoya responded to the assertion with contention.

“EEOC investigations can be very superficial,” he said. “The EEOC determination is not admissible in court. In court, we start everything anew.”

In an earlier interview, Montoya said should the case go to trial a number of Athletics personnel, staff and former and current coaches could be called to testify. He said that Locksley was given special treatment because he was Gerald’s superior and he hired him.

“The trend is toward zero tolerance for violence in the workplace,” Montoya said. “We think that is exhibited more often than not. That certainly wasn’t the approach that was taken by UNM in this case.”

Delving into the specifics of the case, Montoya said in order to prove racial discrimination he will have to establish adverse employment action, which he said in this case is the University’s failure to provide a safe working environment.

Adding that it’s often a difficult task to prove, Montoya said he’s confident that he will have no trouble showing that Gerald was discriminated against.

“Race discrimination exists in the mind of the perpetrator,” Montoya said. “It almost always becomes a question for the jury to decide for itself. The jury’s going to have to take the evidence in this case and peer into the minds of the University administrators that were involved and determine whether Gerald’s race was a (factor).”

The only potential hang-up resides with Montoya.

Back in April, Montoya, who ran for judge in the State Court of Appeals in the Democratic primary against Linda Vanzi, was charged with professional misconduct by the Disciplinary Board, which approached the State Supreme Court about suspending Montoya’s law license, according to an Albuquerque Journal article published May 5. In the end, the State Supreme Court chose not to revoke Montoya’s license, but there is still an ongoing investigation into the allegations.

While attributing the charges to a political quandary, Montoya said he will be vindicated once the investigation runs its course.

“I am not proceeding under any assumption that I am not going to continue to practice law in the state of New Mexico for many years to come,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any reason to for me to assume that I will not be able to represent Coach Gerald to the end of his case.”