Guy Lecompte, who stepped down as Mandeville High School's head football coach on Monday, citing personal reasons, is suing the St. Tammany Parish School Board, alleging that it ignored complaints about mold in the school's field house that he says made him sick.
While the coach was barred from going into the field house, the suit says he was instructed he could not alert other employees or students to the mold problem.
St. Tammany Parish School System spokeswoman Meredith Mendez said the school district was served with the lawsuit Wednesday and officials could not comment on pending litigation.
However, she said the school system had the building cleaned when the first complaint about mold was made and that the field house has been tested multiple times to ensure it is safe. She said testing continues, adding that the school system has used three different companies to conduct the tests.
A public-records request for test results shows that on Jan. 6, March 6 and May 29 of this year, the field house was deemed safe for occupation. The March 6 test report says the results were "typical of normal indoor air in South Louisiana."
Less than two weeks before the season opener against University High, Mandeville High footba…
Lecompte is seeking damages in the lawsuit, filed in 22nd Judicial District Court on Aug. 14, a week before he resigned as head coach. He's also asking that the suit be made a class action.
The lawsuit claims that the School Board's actions were intentional or grossly negligent and that despite a duty to provide a safe and healthy work environment, the board refused to correct the problems.
Complaints have been lodged about roof leaks, wet floors, peeling paint and the "presence of unknown toxic substances," the suit says.
"Defendants have been aware of the existence of toxic black mold and the conditions of the field house in excess of five years and have done nothing to cure the defects and/or warn those individuals entering the field house," the suit says.
Casey Orgeron, Lecompte's lawyer, said school system officials knew the field house was a "sick building" and that his client tried to work with the School Board to resolve a situation that had been affecting his health for years.
It wasn't until November or December of last year that medical tests showed Lecompte had toxins from Stachybotrys mold in his system, Orgeron said.
The suit lists a number of maladies that it says Lecompte suffers from, including an ocular hemorrhage, nose bleeds, constant headaches, fatigue, neuropathy and other neurological problems.
Dr. James Diaz, a toxicologist who is program director for environmental and occupational health sciences at the LSU Health Sciences Center, said that mold is all around, and it's rare for people to have sensitivity to mold toxins.
"We're in the tropics, and mold is everywhere," he said. "It's in your refrigerator, your bathroom."
People with allergies to molds usually experience watery eyes, a stuffy nose or maybe a cough, he said. Those who are more sensitive might have asthmatic-type problems. But he said more serious problems are rare and are seen in people who have a suppressed immune system, such as someone who has had an organ transplant, who is undergoing chemotherapy or who has diabetes or AIDS.
"The concept of toxic mold is really overblown," he said. "A lot of it had to do with litigation and very little true science."
Nonetheless, he said, if someone sees evidence of mold, they should get rid of it. "It's not good for air quality," he noted.
While tests ordered by the school system showed the field house was safe, Orgeron said separate tests conducted when his client took the matter to worker's compensation court showed "extremely high levels of toxic mold."
When school officials told the coach he couldn't go into the field house, Orgeron said, it made Lecompte's job extremely difficult. Parents arranged to have a tent erected outside the field house so he could talk to players during half time, he said.
Jimmy Treuting, who was president of Mandeville High's football booster club from 2012 to 2014, said there have been issues with the building since his involvement began.
He became aware of the mold in 2013 when he was changing filters in the field house, he said. He said he went to the School Board, and the building was cleaned. "We really thought we got it done," he said, but the mold came back.
"It's a sad day," he said of Lecompte's resignation. But he said he was not surprised the former coach is taking this action. "The kids come first (with him); they always did," he said. "I've watched him for a long time. He's a better man than a coach."
Orgeron said that giving up coaching football "killed him because he loves to coach. It's his calling, his passion. That's been taken from him, from the kids and from the community."