Spaceport paid out $130K in settlement with former employee

By: - August 16, 2023 4:30 am

The VSS Eve space plane enters the hanger in the Gateway to Space building at Spaceport America on June 12, 2023.

The New Mexico Spaceport Authority paid $130,000 to settle the lawsuit with former employee Karen Barker last month, according to court documents released Tuesday.

In the agreement, Barker agreed to drop the 2020 lawsuit alleging discrimination and retaliation when she worked for the agency between 2017 and 2019.

Barker sued both the agency and the former New Mexico Spaceport Authority CEO Dan Hicks, claiming they subjected her to “different, less favorable treatment than male counterparts,” while she was the Strategic Solutions Director.

Spaceport attorneys countered in motions that she wasn’t fired for sex discrimination, but due to “unfitness for management.”

The parties settled just before the trial scheduled for July 31.

Spaceport lawsuit settled before trial start

The settlement does not equal any admission or fault on the New Mexico Spaceport Authority’s behalf. Most of the settlement paid Barker’s legal fees – totaling  $117,000, the remaining $13,000 went directly to Barker, according to the agreement.

The settlement was part of a batch of 18 other settlements published on the New Mexico Sunshine Portal Tuesday. Before Tuesday, the portal would only show settlements issued before July 26. Instead, the portal would display a message reading “No records match your search.”

Thom Cole, a spokesperson for the General Services Department, did not return calls or respond to texted and emailed questions about why there were delays in publishing the 18 settlements, which totaled nearly $1.7 million.

Melanie Majors, the executive director for New Mexico Foundation for Open Government, said Friday the gap could be due to a backlog after a vacation.

“But, government shouldn’t stop because someone goes on vacation,” she said. “I question why the state would not have the site updated for such a timeframe, especially since these are required to be made available in a timely manner,”

State law requires settlements be made available for inspection on or after the date the settlement is signed by all parties.

In other near-space news, Virgin Galactic launched a commercial flight with three passengers, from Spaceport America, near Truth and Consequences on Aug. 10. The plans are to fly passengers in a suborbital flight once per month, with another flight scheduled for September.


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Danielle Prokop
Danielle Prokop

Danielle Prokop covers the environment and local government in Southern New Mexico for Source NM. Her coverage has delved into climate crisis on the Rio Grande, water litigation and health impacts from pollution. She is based in Las Cruces, New Mexico.