SUIT: NMSU professor preyed on students for more than a decade

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — A lawsuit filed against New Mexico State University alleges that a longtime professor engaged in “pervasive sexual misconduct for a decade or more,” according to a news release sent out by the attorneys representing an unnamed NMSU student.

The suit — Jane Doe vs. New Mexico State University — alleges that Joseph Berning, a long-time professor in the university’s Kinesiology Department, “harassed and groomed female students for years, coercing them into sexual relations and bragging about the same,” according to the news release.

The lawsuit was originally filed in state court back in 2022 but was sent over to federal court in November 2023, a search of court records show.

The suit alleges that Berning “wielded power over students in mandatory classes he taught, including a course taught with Berning’s partner, Carole Carson, who was also a former student of Berning’s,” according to the news release.

The lawsuit alleges that NMSU knew about Berning’s misconduct by 2013 when a female student reported him for sexual misconduct, according to the news release.

“Another student made allegations and submitted a Title IX action to NMSU in 2013 involving the same professor with very similar circumstances. And that individual, fortunately, was able to stop it at the get-go,” said Albuquerque attorney Paul Linnenburger who is representing the plaintiff in the lawsuit.

According to the new lawsuit, the student said she told authorities at NSMU she filed the complaint to make sure “no other student be put at risk.”

“The driving force for our client is she wants to make sure that not only is Professor Berning stopped from being able to move on to another university and do this all over again, but also that NMSU changes how they do things to make sure that the next time they get a report like they did in 2013, that it stop then and there,” Linnenburger said.

The lawsuit claims, NMSU “did not take action to stop Berning or correct his behavior and he continued to become more brazen with his aggressive and inappropriate sexual advances towards students and staff.”

The plaintiff in the lawsuit alleges she notified NMSU and the university conducted a Title IX investigation.

According to the lawsuit, “after the investigation uncovered damaging information about Berning, NMSU dismissed the proceedings without notifying the victim and let Berning quietly leave the university with his retirement intact.”

The suit also claims NMSU’s conduct was “reckless, callously indifferent and suggestive of an evil motive,'” according to the news release.

The suit was filed by Albuquerque attorneys Paul Linnenburger and Meredith Baker.

The lawsuit also claims NMSU was “silencing (the plaintiff) voice” and “revictimizing her in violation of the state’s Civil Rights Act and her constitutional rights.”

Linnenburger told KTSM that Jane Doe is not in it for the money; it’s about protecting others and making sure that those that did wrong are held accountable.

“Because unless we can hold everyone accountable and the system accountable, the reality is this will just keep happening,” Linnenburger said.

We reached out to NMSU, and the university stated they do not discuss pending litigation.

NMSU was the entity that petitioned to have the lawsuit moved to federal court. It was removed on grounds that the allegations of gender discrimination/equal protection rights fall under constitutional rights.

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