AP NEWS

Lawsuit: Black officer who was fired faced harassment

February 27, 2020 GMT

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A black corrections officer in southeastern New Mexico faced constant harassment and was eventually fired after he called in sick and was later spotted at a high school basketball game, court documents said.

A lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Albuquerque earlier this month alleged Eric Bland and another black corrections officer suffered “petty harassment” following the appointment of a new supervisor at the Lea County Detention Center in August 2018.

The lawsuit said Bland then was reassigned to a less desirable area without explanation and went to human resources to complain.

After he complained, court documents said Bland faced retaliation for going to human resources.

In January 2019, Bland called in sick following three previous days of illness on his days off but went to a high school basketball game that night and appeared in a newspaper photograph the next day, the lawsuit said.

He was placed on leave and eventually fired, the lawsuit said.

Lea County Detention Center officials have “allowed numerous non-African American employees that engaged in similar and more egregious attendance police violations to remain employed,” court documents said.

Bland is seeking an unspecified amount in damages and attorney’s fee.

Mike Gallagher, Lea County Manager, said the county had not received Bland’s lawsuit.

“The county hires and employs many people (our team members) of different races that do outstanding work,” Gallagher said in a statement. “The county does not, has not and will not engage in racial discrimination.”

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Russell Contreras is a member of The Associated Press’ race and ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras