An ex-employee of a Baton Rouge support center for victims of domestic violence has filed suit against her former bosses, claiming they falsely accused her of making suicidal threats and placed her in a hospital under false conditions.
The lawsuit, filed Dec. 26 in federal district court in Baton Rouge, alleges senior staff members of the IRIS Domestic Violence Center forced Sarah Bounds out of her job and resorted to unnecessary facets of her personal life as evidence to claim she was unfit to work at the center.
The suit also makes a range of allegations about why Bounds was fired, from pregnancy discrimination to unfair treatment for being a survivor of domestic violence herself.
“The thing that astonishes me is having an organization that is supposed to protect women treat a female employee who is a domestic violence survivor in the way that they did,” said Bounds’ attorney, Robert Landry III. “In our view, it’s atrocious.”
But Danna Leblanc, president of IRIS’s board of directors, said, “We consider the suit to be meritless,” adding they are preparing an aggressive defense.
Bounds joined IRIS as a director of operations in August 2013, and shortly after she started, Leblanc began to oversee her work by standing behind her and micromanaging her, the lawsuit alleges.
Bounds was six months pregnant when she started, and her alleged run-ins with Leblanc grew serious enough that Leblanc told Bounds’ supervisor that Bounds “was too distracted by pregnancy to be a good worker.”
When Bounds returned from maternity leave in January, she began going to therapy for postpartum depression and also began seeking treatment from the IRIS center, according to the lawsuit.
By May, those challenges caused her to work partially from home, the lawsuit says. But her disagreements with Leblanc became so severe that Leblanc allegedly told her in September, “We can’t have anyone in your position in personal crisis,” and later added, “I have a real job with a six-figure salary, I don’t have time for this. …”
Bounds suspected her firing was imminent, and on Sept. 25, she told a co-worker she was overwhelmed and afraid of losing her job. But that co-worker later claimed in an affidavit that Bounds made suicidal threats, the lawsuit says.
Landry, Bounds’ lawyer, says Bounds did not make such threats. But by the end of that day, sheriff’s deputies arrived and took Bounds to a local hospital’s psychiatric holding ward, where she stayed for 27 hours, according to the lawsuit. Then she was transferred to a different treatment center for two more days, and released on Sept. 28, before being fired soon after, the lawsuit alleges.
“It was taken to an extreme the likes of which I have not seen before,” Landry said. He added of the September incident, “I think it was a falsified and exaggerated reason to end her employment.”
Leblanc says the lawsuit will have no effect on IRIS’s image as a major source of help for domestic violence survivors in seven parishes.
“Things like this happen whenever you have a business,” Leblanc said of the lawsuit. “My biggest concern is that people know that we’re still here and saving lives every day.
“Our clients aren’t concerned with an ex-employee and what’s going on with that. They’re coming here to have their lives saved.”
The lawsuit comes at the same time IRIS’ membership with the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence has been suspended, though it is not clear whether the lawsuit has anything to do with it, said Leblanc, who added she is meeting with coalition officials later this week to discuss renewing the membership.
IRIS has had at least three changes of leadership in the past three years, Leblanc said. IRIS plans to announce its new executive director in the next month or so, she added.
Follow Daniel Bethencourt on Twitter, @_dbethencourt.