County to pay $570K to ex-Sheriff’s spokesperson

ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) – A lawsuit that rocked Bernalillo County has been settled for a six-figure sum.

Bernalillo County attorney Randy Autio announced it has agreed to settle a pair of lawsuits brought by former BCSO spokesperson and legal adviser Jennifer Vega-Brown for $570,000.

Shortly after being fired in 2012, Vega-Brown filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against her old employer and her old boss.

Vega-Brown said she was demoted and fired for reporting claims of discrimination against Hispanic women in the workplace.

In the lawsuit, Vega-Brown also alleges Sheriff Dan Houston made a string of sexist and inappropriate comments in the workplace. In one example, Vega-Brown says Houston called her and an assistant a “couple of whores.”

Houston has admitted to some of the comments but says Vega-Brown took them out of context in her lawsuit or that they were made in what he believed to be an attorney-client privileged conversation.

“I did in a private conversation with my executive assistant, come in and at one point advise her that the employee at the front desk did look like a fat slob,” Houston told the Albuquerque Journal in a 2012 interview.

Other comments, Houston has denied making entirely.

“The sheriff never told any employee that they were an overweight slob or a fat slob,” said attorney Jonlyn Martinez at a 2012 press conference. “In addition, the sheriff never told Jennifer Vega-Brown that she was a whore.”

A public records dispute that stemmed from the first lawsuit led to a second lawsuit. A district judge made a major ruling against the county in the case.

Tuesday Autio confirmed the $570,000 settlement covers both cases.

News of the decision drew an unhappy response from Houston, who said in a statement that he was not consulted in advance and objected to the move to settle.

Autio says neither the County, the Sheriff’s Department nor Houston himself are admitting to any wrongdoing as part of the deal. Vega-Brown’s attorney, Autio and Houston declined further comment citing the terms of the agreement.

Houston is up for reelection this year and is facing a primary challenge in June.

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