Government & Politics

Whistleblowing official, fired by the city, files federal discrimination lawsuit

Zepporiah Edmonds, the city parking administrator who claimed the city and the Office of Inspector General colluded to discredit and fire her for whistleblowing, has filed a federal discrimination suit against the city.

She filed the suit after she was fired earlier this month by her boss, Department of Public Works Director Mark Jernigan.

Jernigan began the process of seeking Edmonds’ termination last summer, shortly after the Office of Inspector General released a critical report about several parking-control officers. The report alleged that Edmonds refused to cooperate with the investigator, Eduardo Hernandez.

But as The Lens reported last year, Edmonds denied that, providing evidence that she was in contact with Hernandez during the investigation. She further claimed that Hernandez only began the investigation after his girlfriend, a federal employee, was ticketed by one of the parking officers targeted in the report. The Office of Inspector General later admitted that Hernandez’s girlfriend was ticketed but denied that it constituted a conflict of interest for Hernandez.

Edmonds believed Hernandez’s report was the culmination of a years-long retaliation campaign beginning in 2012. Edmonds claimed she angered city officials when she tried to report what she saw as an  attempt by some city officials to steer a multimillion-dollar parking contract to a preferred bidder.

The city’s Ethics Review Board began investigating Hernandez, Jernigan and Cedric Grant, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s infrastructure czar and Jernigan’s boss, after receiving a complaint from Edmonds.

Jernigan sent a letter, dated Jan. 6 informing Edmonds that she would be fired effective Jan. 11.

“I was under the impression I was returning to work,” Edmonds said in an interview. “I received a letter in the mail two days before I was to return to work.”

Along with her alleged refusal to participate in Hernandez’s investigation, Jernigan’s termination letter charges that Edmonds interfered with a sexual harassment investigation and that she improperly reduced parking employees’ disciplinary actions without Jernigan’s approval. Edmonds has previously denied those charges.

As part of her suit, Edmonds this week requested that U.S. District Court Judge Ivan Lemelle file a temporary restraining order against the city rescinding her firing. Lemelle denied the request.

In the lawsuit, filed on Jan. 12, Edmonds again recounts her story about the parking contract as a motive for the alleged retaliation and harassment she experienced. But she also claims a pattern of racial discrimination by city officials, saying there was a “palpable racial animus against her and other Black employees, perceptible to many.”

Edmonds referred questions about the suit to her lawyer, Dominic Varrecchio, who did not immediately return a request for comment.

The suit claims that the alleged racial animus became noticeable after she “refused favors for certain politically connected White superiors, favors involving the impoundment of illegally parked vehicles and her refusal to waive fees and charges for politically connected Landrieu Administration employees and friends.”

The suit does not expand on that, but in complaint letters sent last fall, Edmonds claimed that in 2014, she refused a request from Public Works Human Resources Manager Linda Copeland to release a friend’s vehicle from a city impound lot without payment. Copeland is named as a defendant in Edmonds’ lawsuit along with Jernigan and the city.

Hayne Rainey, a spokesman for Landrieu, declined to comment, citing pending litigation. Copeland and Jernigan did not immediately return requests for comment.

Edmonds filed another suit against the city in state court this month through lawyer Willie Zanders. But it appears that it won’t be going forward.

In an interview, Zanders said he plans to withdraw that suit because a recent ruling allows Edmonds to pursue her whistleblower appeal before the city’s Civil Service Commission.

“That’s going to be before the commission,” Zanders said. “She can amend it to include the fact that they’ve now terminated her.”

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