Government & Politics
 

Judge tosses discrimination lawsuit by former parking administrator against city of New Orleans

A federal judge has dismissed a wrongful termination and discrimination lawsuit filed against the city of New Orleans by its former parking administrator, a case that involved allegations of contract-fixing and misconduct by high-ranking city officials.

However,  Zepporiah Edmonds’ appeal of her termination is ongoing before the city’s Civil Service Commission.

Department of Public Works Director Mark Jernigan fired Edmonds in early 2016 after a report by the Office of Inspector General said she refused to cooperate with its investigation of city parking-control officers.

Edmonds, however, alleged the report was false and she was never allowed to properly respond to the allegations.

She claimed the report wasn’t the real reason she was fired. Edmonds said she angered city officials in 2012 when she tried to put the brakes on what she claimed was a scheme to steer a contract for parking-ticket processing and vehicle-booting to a preferred company.

The day after she was fired, Edmonds filed suit, claiming whistleblower status and alleging retaliation and discrimination based on age, race and disability. She named the city, Jernigan and Linda Copeland, a human resources employee in the Department of Public Works, as defendants.

She also appealed her firing to the city’s Civil Service Commission.

U.S. District Court Judge Ivan Lemelle previously denied parts of her suit. Last month, he dismissed it in full.

Lemelle may reconsider his ruling, though, and he has given Edmonds’ lawyer until September to supplement her case with additional evidence.

In his ruling, Lemelle found that Edmonds, who is African-American, failed to demonstrate racial discrimination. He cited an earlier filing in the case by the city, which said Edmonds’ replacement was also black.

He also found that Edmonds couldn’t prove discriminatory treatment in the form of an “adverse employment action.”

Edmonds claimed she was improperly removed from a panel reviewing vendors’ bids for the parking contract in 2012. She also claimed that city officials ignored her reference checks and pricing analysis of the bids.

According to Edmonds, other members of the review panel wanted Duncan Solutions to get the job. But she concluded it was by far the most expensive of the three top bidders.

Duncan’s estimated $5.7 million annual cost would have been about $700,000 more than the next highest bidder and about $900,000 higher than the lowest, according to Edmonds.

The city ended up splitting the contract into three parts, one of which Duncan got.

Lemelle concluded that being removed from an advisory panel and having her work ignored did not amount to  “adverse employment actions.”

“Her allegations merely suggest that the committee wanted to double-check her work before moving forward,” Lemelle wrote.

He agreed that her firing was an adverse employment action, but he found the city justified it with the Inspector General’s report, as well as allegations that she interfered with internal investigations.

Lemelle found that Edmonds did not provide any evidence that she was treated worse than employees who aren’t African-American.

The case has been going on for more than 18 months. “At this stage of the proceedings, Plaintiff should be able to produce a factual basis for her claims,” the judge  wrote.

He was similarly dismissive of Edmonds’ disability discrimination complaint, writing that she never revealed what disability she has.

“She makes conclusory allegations of discrimination based on some unknown disability, but ultimately completely fails to allege that she has a disability recognized” by the Americans With Disabilities Act, Lemelle wrote.

As to Edmonds’ wrongful termination complaint, Lemelle decided it should be considered by the City’s Civil Service Commission.

Civil Service hearings on Edmonds’ appeal began in April 2016 and continued throughout last year. A hearing officer has yet to produce a report to present to the commission, a Civil Service Department employee told The Lens. Edmonds is scheduled to address the commission next week about what’s taking so long.

But the federal case is not exactly over. Late last month, Edmonds’ lawyer Dominic Varrecchio filed a motion requesting that Lemelle reconsider. Varrecchio argued that a recent illness kept him from fully responding to the city’s request for dismissal, filed in May.

This week Lemelle gave Varrecchio time to “supplement the record and motion for reconsideration with evidence, not conclusory allegations.”

In an interview, Varrecchio said he plans to present additional evidence that “will give the judge firm ground to reinstate the case.”

The city didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

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