Two black former employees of the Southeastern Louisiana University Police Department will be allowed to move forward with their federal discrimination, retaliation and sexual harassment claims against the university system and some of their former supervisors and coworkers.
Angela Jones, a former SLU police officer, alleges several members of the Police Department used racial epithets to harass her and that she was subjected to unwarranted investigation, suspensions and then fired for poor performance without being given an option to resign.
Rasheda Gandolfo, who worked in the department’s parking division, alleges that she was exposed to sexually inappropriate comments and behavior by a coworker, despite her repeated complaints to supervisors. Gandolfo was terminated for low leave balances, but she argued that white employees were not fired for the same offense.
In October, the two women sued the Board of Supervisors for the University of Louisiana System, which oversees SLU, along with former SLU Police Chief Mike Prescott, former interim Chief Carmen Bray, Capt. Mike McGill, Sgt. Kevin Knudsen and former Human Resources Director Kevin Brady in federal court, seeking unspecified damages.
The university system and other defendants had asked the court to toss out the case, but U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen Wells Roby ruled Wednesday that Jones and Gandolfo had provided enough evidence of possible discrimination, retaliation and sexual harassment to allow the case to proceed.
Roby dismissed, however, the women’s claims that the university system had violated their due process rights or federal whistleblower statutes.
Attorney Chris Moody, who represents the University of Louisiana System and the individual defendants in the lawsuit, could not be reached for comment on the ruling Friday.
Jones and Gandolfo allege in the lawsuit that Bray, the interim chief, and McGill, the captain, maintained an atmosphere of racism in the department by using the acronym “N.B.N.” to mean “niggers being niggers” and using the term “Democrats” to refer to African-Americans.
The women also claim Knudsen, their supervisor, wore a T-shirt marked with “K.K.K.” — his initials — and would force Jones to leave Gandolfo’s desk but would allow Gandolfo’s sexual harasser to continue his unwelcome visits.
Jones, who was with the university’s Police Department for more than a decade, has said she was repeatedly written up, suspended without pay and put under internal investigation after she filed a grievance in January 2012 alleging she was passed over for promotion because of her race.
Jones alleges in the lawsuit that Prescott, the former chief, blocked her from the promotion, then later harassed her when she received the position after the chosen candidate declined to take the job.
The women say Brady, the human resources director, knew about their complaints and either excused the behavior or did nothing.
Jones was fired April 2, 2014, based on poor performance evaluations and a string of incidents her supervisors said demonstrated unprofessionalism and abuse of authority.
She appealed her termination, asking for back pay and reinstatement, but a Civil Service Commission referee ruled Jan. 27 that the firing was “amply supported by legal cause.”
In the ruling, referee Brent Frederick said he found Jones’ contention that she was a victim of retaliation due to her grievance to be “highly implausible” because she later received the promotion and dropped her grievance. Frederick also found the testimony to support Jones’ claims of racial and sexual harassment to be “vague, unsubstantiated and conclusory.”
Frederick said that while SLU had not proven all the grounds it provided for firing Jones, he believed the university had proven Jones was guilty of poor work performance, insubordination, abuse of authority and unprofessional conduct.
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