A recent University of New Mexico graduate says she was fired from an internship in Democratic Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham's office because she is transgender.
Riley Del Rey, 26, says she is raising the allegations now, nearly three years after the internship, because of a slew of stories in the news about sexual harassment and discrimination in the workplace. But missing in the nationwide debate, she says, are the views of transgender people.
Lujan Grisham, now running for governor, said through a congressional spokesman that neither she nor her office would discriminate against anyone.
"Our office takes the rights of the [lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender] community very seriously, and we are dumbfounded by any suggestion that we would discriminate against anyone for any reason," says Gilbert Gallegos, a spokesman for the congresswoman.
Lujan Grisham's office referred questions about Del Rey's internship to the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute, the nonprofit organization that had hired her.
The institute disputes Del Rey's accusations.
"CHCI is an equal opportunity employer and treats all persons, whether LGBTQ or otherwise, equally," a spokeswoman said.
The institute confirmed Del Rey was an intern in 2015 and did not complete its program, but declined to elaborate on her specific allegations.
The institute, which Lujan Grisham previously led as chairwoman, provides students with housing and a stipend to intern on Capitol Hill. This lessens the cost of internships that can be out of reach financially for many young people aspiring to work in politics.
But Del Rey alleges supervisors at the institute discussed her physical appearance with her at least twice after she began working in Washington, D.C., suggesting for example that her heels were too high or her hemline too short. She said her choice of clothing was professional.
The organization's concerns, she says, culminated about three weeks into her internship in a meeting with staff from the institute and Lujan Grisham's office.
Del Rey maintains there was another issue: She believes staff in the congresswoman's office had just become aware that she is transgender.
She had not identified as transgender when applying for the program, and the institute says it does not ask. But, Del Rey says, she discussed her gender identity and transgender rights with at least one representative who had spoken out on the issue.
Del Rey says she is not sure this congressman relayed the information to Lujan Grisham. But, Del Ray says, supervisors told her they had received information that caught them "off guard."
The institute terminated her that same day, she says.
Del Rey returned to Albuquerque and completed a bachelor's degree in philosophy. She has worked with the advocacy group Young Women United and is currently employed at a law firm.
Her job sometimes requires her to interact with Lujan Grisham's office on matters such as Social Security cases.
Del Rey says being fired from the internship was a blow, since she had already taken off a semester at UNM and given up her apartment in Albuquerque.
Lujan Grisham's office maintains she has a record of defending the rights LGBT people. Her staff has received training from the Transgender Resource Center of New Mexico and UNM's LGBTQ Resource Center, according to a spokesman.
"Our office treats every person who interacts with our office with dignity and respect, regardless of their LGBTQ status, age, national origin, religion, disability, political orientation or any other factor," Gallegos says.
This is not the first allegation of its kind against the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute.
In 2011, a student said the institute booted her from its internship program because she is transgender, according to the Washington newspaper Roll Call.
The intern said her firing came three days before she was to begin work in the office of then-Rep. Martin Heinrich, a Democrat from New Mexico who is now a U.S. senator. Heinrich's office says it was not aware of the circumstances surrounding the intern's termination and was not involved in the decision.
Contact Andrew Oxford at (505) 986-3093 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @andrewboxford. This story first published in the Santa Fe New Mexican, a sibling publication of The Taos News.