Laque to stand trial
Three former parish employees allege racism, retaliation
Three parish employees filed a lawsuit against both St. Charles Parish and former Parish President Albert Laque that claims they were fired from their positions because of racism and political retaliation.
Gwendolyn Blackwell, Demona Harrison and Ophelia Walker Wilson worked in the Department of Community Service in 2003 when Laque ran for a second term in office. The three African-American employees are accusing Laque of terminating their employment because they supported Laque’s opponent, Darnell Abadie. They are also accusing Laque of racial discrimination.
The U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans found enough evidence to warrant a trial, and rejected Laque’s argument that the plaintiffs would have been fired regardless of their political speech. The appeals court also agreed that the plaintiffs have established a case of possible racial discrimination.
If they win, the employees would be eligible for back pay and compensation.
The suit was brought to the appellate court because Laque thought he was immune from such a lawsuit. The court ruled that he must stand trial.
“My clients were vocal in getting their department, which was majority African-American, to become a part of the civil service system in the parish,” John-Michael Lawrence, attorney for the three former employees said.
Lawrence says because of their effort to convert the department, and because they supported Abadie, who agreed that the department should have been converted, the three were fired.
Harold Koretsky, attorney for both the parish and Laque, says that his client didn’t fire anyone because of race or political retaliation.
“The appellate court’s decision overlooks the undisputed fact that an independent consultant recommended that three positions be eliminated in order to ensure civil service status for the remaining seven positions,” he said. “The former employees’ positions were selected for elimination by a three-person committee consisting of their department manager and the parish’s personnel manager and chief administrative officer. Laque merely adopted the committee’s recommendation.”
Koretsky says that his clients expect that all claims will ultimately be dismissed. However, Lawrence says the three former employees have a case.
“What’s important here is that Laque denied them civil service status, then fired them for exercising a constitutional right they had as non-civil service employees,” he said.
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