44G back pay for school worker axed over politics, says fed jury
That’s how former St. Charles Parish Schools employee Kevin Friloux described his long but successful legal battle with the school board following the elimination of his job in 2004.
That battle ended just days ago, when a jury in U.S. District Court in New Orleans decided that the schools did indeed violate Friloux’s civil rights when members voted to give him the boot from a job as assistant director of the school district's tax office.
The jury awarded him $43,500 in back pay, but decided against awarding him additional damages for emotional distress.
In his lawsuit, Friloux said he was fired in retaliation for running for public office, a violation of his civil rights, his attorney, Alexandra Mora said.
“I got a lot of e-mails and phone calls from people saying I should have just walked away, but I knew standing up for myself was the right thing to do,” Friloux told the Herald-Guide.
“I think more people should stand up and not feel intimidated.
“Certain people tore up my name in the community and they tried to destroy me, but in the end, I won.”
Rochelle Cancienne, a spokesman for the schools, isn’t happy with the award.
"We are deeply disappointed in the jury's verdict awarding Mr. Friloux back pay,” she said.
“ The board will have to consider its options in response to this verdict after conferring with its attorneys and the superintendent (Rodney Lafon).”
"The board, of course, reaffirms the right of its employees to seek and hold public office.”
Lafon was not available for comment.
So does Friloux want his old job back? Not a chance. “I am a real-estate broker now,” Friloux says.
At the time of his firing, school officials defended the decision to eliminate Friloux's position as part of a reorganization of the tax department.
In the interest of fairness, the characterization of the board's action as a “firing” instead of a layoff or job elimination has been in dispute from the beginning, but Mora said it was clear to Friloux that he was fired.
Friloux claimed he was warned by some board members and Lafon not to run for office.
Lafon, board members John Smith, Mary Bergeron, and Clarence Savoie, as well as former board members Alfred Green and Cindy Brasher, and several school employees were witnesses in the three-day trial before Magistrate Judge Daniel E. Knowles III, Mora said.
Friloux, who worked for the school district for 12 years, was limited to seeking back pay from the time he was fired until the date of the trial. The award was reduced by the amount he has from other jobs since he was fired.
The suit also asked for damages for emotional distress, but the jury said no.Friloux said he’s happy with the money he got.
"We didn't ask for any exorbitant amount of money. That's not what we were looking for," he said.
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