PORT ALLEN — New court filings in the lawsuit Port Allen Chief Financial Officer Audrey McCain lodged against former Mayor Demetric “Deedy” Slaughter reveal some of the behind-the-scenes drama that played out at City Hall before the controversial mayor was ousted from office.
In a motion filed in 8th Judicial District Court, McCain’s attorneys say Slaughter stripped McCain of powers inherent to her position as CFO, such as her authority to manage bank accounts. And as tensions between them rose, they wrote, Slaughter ordered McCain to keep her office door in City Hall open at all times and would send her home for not following orders McCain considered improper, the filings state.
The new details come as the trial for McCain’s suit against Slaughter was pushed back yet again after more than a yearlong set of delays. McCain claims in the suit that Slaughter violated the state’s whistleblower law when she attempted to fire her and took retaliatory actions against her in the workplace.
District Judge Alvin Batiste was set to hear arguments in the case on Wednesday but had to delay the court proceedings because of health issues confronting one of Slaughter’s lawyers.
Batiste in July reset the matter for trial this month so McCain’s attorneys could build a stronger case that the former mayor’s actions while in office violated the state’s whistleblower law.
The Louisiana Whistleblower Law is designed to protect employees from retribution from their bosses after reporting any illegal workplace activities and/or refusing to engage in any unlawful acts during their employment.
McCain sued Slaughter in February 2013 after Slaughter fired her over accounting deficiencies cited in an annual audit report for the city — a decision later overturned by Batiste. The judge ruled that the mayor lacked authority to dismiss the chief financial officer without City Council approval.
However, allegations that Slaughter’s dismissal of McCain violated the state’s whistleblower law and that the former mayor had defamed McCain and interfered with her day-to-day job duties as CFO caused the legal battle to stretch on for more than a year.
Slaughter was recalled from office in November 2013.
In the motions filed Monday, attorneys for McCain argue that Slaughter took punitive actions against the CFO because McCain would not obey Slaughter’s orders to make certain payments McCain considered improper.
Among other things, they wrote, McCain refused to pay the former mayor $20,000 more than her budgeted salary. McCain also would not reimburse Slaughter for expense reports that the CFO says were erroneously submitted for Slaughter’s trip to Washington, D.C., during the inauguration of President Barack Obama in Jan. 2013. In addition, McCain’s lawyers wrote, McCain disobeyed directives from Slaughter to ignore public records requests from the media.
After McCain testified against Slaughter in a separate lawsuit the City Council brought filed against the then-mayor, Slaughter implemented an “Open Door Policy” at City Hall in July 2013 restricting employees from shutting their office doors, the legal filings state.
“Ms. McCain immediately brought to the mayor’s attention that the policy prohibiting the closing of her door was causing her to continuously sustain severe and debilitating illness due to severe allergies, as well as making her ability to concentrate, and thus perform her job duties impossible,” the motion states.
The motion claims McCain was forced to take earned sick leave after the former mayor ignored several requests from McCain asking permission to close her office door.
In filings responding to the claims in McCain’s suit, attorney J. Arthur Smith, who represents the city of Port Allen, wrote that she isn’t entitled to protection under the state’s whistleblower law because the actions McCain took fall within the scope of her job duties as a financial watchdog for the city.
Smith said Wednesday that the mayor also has certain rights as the city’s administrative head in managing the workforce.
“McCain certainly has the right to refuse a direct order from the mayor but the mayor has a right to send her home that day to cool off,” he said.
The city’s response goes on to dispute most of McCain’s allegations.
Attorney Cy D’Aquila, who represents McCain, said Wednesday attorneys will hold a telephone status conference with Batiste on Oct. 25 to set a new court date.
Slaughter’s attorney, Ron Johnson, has faced medical issues since he collapsed in federal district court on Aug. 6 during the middle of a trial regarding a lawsuit challenging Baton Rouge City Court election boundaries.
“If it looks like (Johnson) may not be doing well by then, they’ll let Slaughter get another attorney,” D’Aquila said.
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