The way Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) Director Troy Hebert runs his shop, it was inevitable that one or more of his employees would end up taking legal action against him.
And when you strip grown men of their dignity by making them write lines like some school kid, that borders on the sadistic. Such petty behavior is just asking for trouble and trouble is certain to oblige.
In fact, he already has settled a couple of discrimination claims and now three more former employees have filed suit in federal court.
Three former ATC supervisors, all black, have filed a federal lawsuit in the Baton Rouge’s Middle District claiming a multitude of actions they say Hebert took in a deliberate attempt to force the three to resign or take early retirement and in fact, conducted a purge of virtually all black employees of ATC.
Baton Rouge attorney J. Arthur Smith, III filed the lawsuit on behalf of Charles Gilmore of Baton Rouge, Daimian T. McDowell of Bossier Parish, and Larry J. Hingle of Jefferson Parish.
The lawsuit claims a pattern of racial discrimination, race-based harassment and retaliation, including the “systematic elimination of all African-American employees” of the agency.
When Hebert took over the office in November of 2010, “there were five African-American supervisors within the ATC Enforcement Division,” the suit says. Today, there are none.
One of the more egregious acts attributed to Hebert and reported earlier by LouisianaVoice was his ordering two of the plaintiffs in the latest lawsuit, Gilmore and McDowell, to go undercover to investigate a New Orleans bar where each had previously investigated in full uniform. Both men, fearing for their safety should they be recognized, requested that Hebert send other undercover agents, but he refused and told the two “to handle it,” the petition says.
On Feb. 6, 2012, Hebert relocated Gilmore from Baton Rouge to north Louisiana permanently with no prior notice and later informed agent Brette Tingle that he had reassigned Gilmore in the hope he would retire early or resign. Tingle, the petition says, advised McDowell and Gilmore on Aug. 23, 2012, that Hebert had confided in him that he intended to break up the “black trio,” a reference to McDowell, Gilmore and another agent, Bennie Walters. Walters was subsequently terminated two weeks later, on Sept. 7.
On Sept. 6, 2012, the day after Hebert demoted McDowell from Agent 3 to Agent 2 (the demotion was later rescinded), Hebert conducted an internal investigation of five agents and seized computers, iPads and cell phones and then ordered each agent to write four essays regarding ATC.
Another claim cited in the lawsuit concerns an email sent by one of the supervisor’s subordinates in which the agent failed to address Hebert as “Commissioner” or “Sir.”
Hebert, who requires that all ATC personnel rise from their seats and address him with a cheery “Good morning, Commissioner” whenever he walks into a room, responded by asking Human Resources Director Joan Ward “what type of disciplinary action” he could take “to get Hingle’s attention” to ensure his agents showed Hebert the “proper respect,” the petition says.
Hingle also claims that Hebert referred to him as “incompetent” and a “zero” in the presence of Hingle’s subordinate agents and that he confided to agent Brette Tingle that he was planning to “go after” Hingle.
On Dec. 27, 2012, Hingle said Hebert sent him a letter proposing his dismissal. He later rescinded the letter but sent a second proposal of dismissal on Jan. 22 and six days later was demoted from ATC Agent 5 to ATC Agent 3.
The lawsuit said that all three plaintiffs have received the requisite “right to sue” notice from the U.S. Department of Justice pursuant to Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaints.
The three men claim that Hebert, ATC and the Louisiana Department of Revenue are liable for compensatory damages, including economic and emotional losses, loss of retirement benefits and damages to their reputations.
They are asking for a jury trial and are seeking lost wages, compensatory damages, and punitive damages.