NMCA: Whistleblower who recovered no damages still entitled to attorney’s fees and costs

While employed by the Town of Taos, Joseph Maestas was caught viewing pornography on his work computer, and was fired two weeks later. He then sued the Town under the Whistleblower Protection Act. Although he admitted to viewing pornography on his work computer, Maestas claimed that the Town did not actually fire him for that reason, but instead because he had complained about “mismanagement, waste of finds, and improper road procurement contracts[.]”

The jury agreed with Maestas but awarded him no damages.

In Maestas v. Town of Taos (opinion by Judge Briana Zamora), the Court of Appeals rejected Maestas’s claims: (1) that the district court erroneously instructed the jury that it did not have to award any damages; (2) that the district court’s admission of 30 of the 5,000 pornographic images found on his computer was unfairly prejudicial; and (3) that he was entitled to front pay and retirement benefits.

The Court of Appeals agreed with Maestas that he was a prevailing party under the Whistleblower Protection Act, and therefore entitled to attorney’s fees and costs, despite recovering no compensatory damages.

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