Government & Politics
 

Fired city parking director claims department employees retaliated against four former coworkers

The former head of parking for the city of New Orleans, who claims she was fired because she blew the whistle on a contract-fixing scheme, says senior city officials have retaliated against four coworkers who have supported her appeal.

Zepporiah Edmonds made the allegations last week in a Civil Service hearing, where she is appealing her January termination.

All four of the people she named have testified on her behalf. According to documents obtained by The Lens, two were passed over for promotions. Another quit soon after he testified.

Edmonds claims her firing was the culmination of a four-year-long campaign to undermine and discredit her. It began, she says, when she blew the whistle on an alleged attempt to steer a multimillion-dollar parking contract to a preferred bidder.

She has filed a federal discrimination lawsuit, too.

In Wednesday’s Civil Service hearing, Edmonds testified that Mark Jernigan, the head of the Public Works Department, and Linda Copeland, a department human resources employee, have harassed or improperly denied promotions to four employees: Sherida Emery, Alton Jones, Jorge Hernandez and Richard Boseman.

“Not only did they attempt to oust me, they initiated stringent efforts to oust members of my staff,” Edmonds said.

In an interview, Edmonds said those employees all worked closely with her. Unlike other staffers, they continued to work with her after the city began the process of firing her in summer 2015.

The four employees witnessed the events that led to Edmonds’ firing and have provided key testimony on her behalf.

Edmonds provided official documents showing that three of the employees — Emery, Jones and Hernandez — protested their treatment. The documents, however, don’t offer any specific evidence supporting Edmonds’ claim that their problems were related to her case. She didn’t provide any documents on Boseman, whom she said was passed over for a promotion.

The employees filed their complaints after Edmonds began her appeal in September 2015, the month after the city began the process that would lead to her termination. The employees were mentioned in her termination letter from Jernigan, her appeal filings or both.

“They all knew they were going to be subpoenaed,” she said.

Hernandez submitted a bitter letter of resignation, which mentioned Edmonds, a week after he testified.

He testified in April that he had “deep, deep reservations” about how city officials handled the 2012 parking contract. He also disputed an Office of Inspector General report that accused Edmonds of refusing to cooperate with investigators, calling that “nonsense.”

“I understand that my testimony is not beneficial to the city,” he said. “I just want to go on the record to say that I hope no punitive measures are being taken against me because of my testimony.”

Hernandez submitted his letter of resignation eight days later.

“I want to thank former Parking Administrator, Zepporiah A. Edmonds, for giving me the opportunity to give back with my service to this great city which I hold so dear,” Hernandez wrote. “But in the end, the loyalty that I showed the city unfortunately was not reciprocated.”

He continued: “My efforts, at one time or another, have been criticized, my character has been impugned and my ethics have been challenged or questioned.”

It’s unclear what he was referring to; he declined to comment for this story.

Edmonds testified on Wednesday that in September 2015, Jernigan had threatened to suspend Hernandez for what Edmonds said was a false allegation involving a Public Works vendor.

Hernandez’s personnel file doesn’t include any disciplinary actions in his eight years with the city.

Asked in an interview if she thought Hernandez’s resignation was related to his testimony, Edmonds said, “I know it was.”

“Jorge was petrified,” she added.

In a June hearing, Sherida Emery, a parking supervisor, said Edmonds had tried to help the Inspector General investigators. Emery accused Jernigan of trying to get her to lie to support Edmonds’ firing.

After the department started its process of firing Edmonds, Emery complained to the Civil Service Commission that she had been passed over for management positions. The two employees selected for the jobs had been suspended before, according to Emery’s complaint.

One was found to have threatened her subordinates with violence and disparaged them on social media. She was suspended for 20 days, later negotiated to 10.

In 2015, the other was found to have created a cheat sheet for an employee ethics test, which she passed out to coworkers. She was suspended for three days.

Emery’s personnel file shows a few suspensions in 2000 through 2003.

The third employee, Alton Jones, is a tow-yard supervisor. In his Civil Service complaint, he claims Copeland offered him a promotion in July 2015, but it was denied because of a sexual harassment investigation against him.

The status of that investigation is unclear. There are no references to it in his personnel file. Wednesday, Jones testified that he has not heard about it since the Office of Inspector General asked him about it last year.

Later, he was passed over for a promotion. He was told he didn’t get it because he didn’t have the right experience. But that appeared to be an error, as Copeland, the human resources employee, admitted in a letter.

Neither Jones nor Emery responded to phone calls seeking comment.

Jernigan and Copeland didn’t answer questions about the investigation or Edmonds’ allegations about the retaliation against coworkers. Erin Burns, Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s spokeswoman, instead offered a brief written statement.

“The administration takes any allegations of retaliation or harassment very seriously,” she wrote. “At this point, there is no proof that any retaliation has occurred. The City has a system in place where employees with concerns can make a formal complaint, and it will be fully investigated.”.

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