A federal court jury in New Orleans decided that a St. James Parish sheriff’s deputy who is a woman was neither the victim of sexual harassment by her male supervisor nor retaliated against for filing a federal employment complaint.
A jury of four men and four women found for Sheriff Willy Martin Jr. following a two-day trial this week before U.S. District Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt, online court records show.
Former road Deputy LaTanya Sterling alleged in an April 2010 suit that her former supervisor, Lt. Tyrone Lafargue, made a series of inappropriate sexual comments to her starting in August 2007.
Sheriff Martin, the only named defendant in the suit, and who was not accused of harassment, said Friday he was glad about the verdict and intends to institute training for employees to ensure alleged inappropriate conversations do not occur.
He said his office conducted an internal affairs investigation immediately after Sterling reported the allegations in 2008, but investigators could not determine a true version of what happened.
He said Lafargue was suspended for allowing inappropriate comments to happen in his presence.
“We felt like we acted appropriately upon gaining knowledge of what she reported and are working to make sure none of my female employees feel this way,” he said.
Sterling sought damages for emotional distress, punitive damages, lost wages and other pay, fees and costs.
“The key issue was whether the harassing words were offensive or not, and the jury found they were not,” plaintiff’s attorney J. Courtney Wilson said.
Sterling’s lawsuit asserted that before she gave a taped statement in February 2008, she complained to Chief Deputy Heria “Butch” Williams several times but asked that Williams not speak to Lafargue until she was transferred.
The transfer didn’t initially happen and the comments continued, the suit claims.
Court records say the Sheriff’s Office argued that Lafargue willingly participated in the talk and did not initially indicate she was offended.
The jury also rejected two retaliation claims after hearing testimony Monday and Tuesday.
Sterling alleged sheriff’s officials failed to investigate a hit-and-run incident that injured her in November 2008 while she was on duty and also reassigned her to the jail.
Wilson said his client plans to appeal the jury’s decision to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Sterling, who has worked at the Sheriff’s Office since June 1997, remains a jail deputy.