Baton Rouge-based Shaw Group Inc. is denying it retaliated against two employees who blew the whistle on contractors allegedly giving kickbacks to state officials for contracts to elevate homes in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
The allegations of retaliation and kickbacks are contained in a lawsuit filed May 31 in Baton Rouge state court.
Shaw formally answered the suit earlier this month, saying in a court filing that the company “denies each and every allegation’’ contained in it.
Christy Weiser and Greg Pierson filed the suit against Shaw and the state Office of Community Development.
Weiser, who also claims in the suit that she was sexually harassed by an OCD official at her Shaw office, resigned from the firm in February. She contends in the suit that she had “no other reasonable alternative.’’
Pierson still works for Shaw but was suspended Friday for speaking to the media about the suit, said lawyer Jill Craft, who represents Pierson and Weiser in the case.
“This is America and every person has a right to speak to the press, especially when it involves issues of public funds — our money — and improprieties relating thereto,’’ Craft said, noting that the house-raising program is funded with “our tax dollars.’’
Shaw spokeswoman Gentry Brann said she could not discuss Pierson’s status with the company but added, “I can tell you that we are investigating possible violations of our company policies and unauthorized disclosure of information.’’
As for the suit, Brann said Shaw does not comment on pending litigation but noted “we intend to vigorously defend this matter.’’
“Shaw takes very seriously our obligation to maintain a workplace free from discrimination and harassment, we do not tolerate any form of retaliation for raising complaints,’’ she added in an email to The Advocate.
OCD declined comment.
The suit says Shaw hired Pierson and Weiser to work in the $750 million Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, which consists of funds made available to OCD to provide money to people in flood areas to elevate and storm-proof their homes.
Shaw regulates and monitors the program via a contract between the company and the state, the suit states.
The suit claims, among other things, that:
• OCD and Shaw pressured Weiser and Pierson and ordered them to give certain contractors preferential treatment, including New Orleans foundation contractor J-Con Inc.
“J-Con is also one of the contractors who produced ‘duplicate’ invoices for the same job, only one invoice shows a higher amount to be charged than the other,’’ the suit alleges.
• Certain contractors submitted forged bid documents, including charging homeowners for moving “gas lines’’ when the particular residences had no gas service.
• An OCD official ordered Weiser and Pierson to keep a particular contractor “happy and quiet’’ and to give the contractor what he wanted to keep him from going to the media.
• A state official received jewelry from a contractor, and other state officials accepted meals and items of value from private contractors.
“My clients spoke out because the people directly affected by Katrina have suffered enough,’’ Craft said Friday. “My clients did not want them to be victimized again.’’
The suit is assigned to state District Judge Mike Caldwell. No hearings have been held.