Fired Worker Wants a Break on Off-Duty DUI

     ALBUQUERQUE (CN) — An interim county manager who got her third drunken-driving ticket after two days on the job, and was fired for it, has sued the county, demanding the full value of her 2½-year contract.
     Cibola County hired Rheganne Vaughn as its chief operational officer and assistant county manager on July 1, 2013. The county manager resigned on May 28, 2014, and county commissioners immediately appointed Vaughn interim county manager, effective May 29, according to the Cibola Beacon newspaper.
     Vaughn was arrested at about 10 p.m. on Saturday, May 31, and charged with drunken driving, she acknowledges in her June 10 federal complaint. The County Commission fired her on June 13 that year.
     According to the Beacon and other New Mexico press reports, it was Vaughn’s third arrest for drunk driving, all of them involving open containers.
     She was arrested in May 2011, while she was in charge of Luna County’s DWI Prevention Program, and was arrested and charged with aggravated DWI in August 2006, the Beacon reported, citing an article in the Deming Headlight newspaper.
     Vaughn says in her lawsuit that she was not on duty when she was last arrested, so it should not have affected her employment status.
     She claims that other county employees have not been fired for getting DWIs, but the county fired her “because she is female and was not a part of the ‘good old boy’ network that was pervasive within the Cibola County workplace culture.”
     She demands payment of her entire 2½-year contract.
     The county’s drug and alcohol policies for employees prohibit “[a]buse of drugs or alcohol, i.e., to the extent that the employee’s job performance, the safety of County citizens and/or the reputation of the County government are negatively affected,” Vaughn says, citing the regulation.
     She says her misdemeanor arrest was not a felony charge, did not involve moral turpitude related to her job, and that New Mexico law requires the county to prove that an employee “cannot be rehabilitated” before it can fire a worker for a criminal conviction.
     She also seeks damages for breach of contract, violations of due process and of the New Mexico Criminal Offender Employment Act, and of the Equal Pay Act.
     She is represented by Michael Carrico, with Smidt, Reist & Keleher in Albuquerque.
     According to police reports, Vaughn was stopped at 10:01 p.m. after a police officer saw her weaving in traffic in downtown Grants, and she failed the field sobriety test.
     After voting to fire her, County Commission Chairman Eddie Michael told the Beacon: “I’d be the last one to throw rocks, and so should many others. Her professional conduct was great, but it is what it is. … Bottom line is that county policy is zero tolerance.”
     Cibola County, whose seat is Grants, is west of Albuquerque.

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