The Jefferson Parish Council on Wednesday agreed to settle the only remaining major allegation from a wrongful termination lawsuit filed in federal court by a former parish administrator fired in 2012.
Council President Chris Roberts announced that the parish would proceed to settle with plaintiff Heather Hilliard after a lengthy executive session at the Joseph S. Yenni Building in Elmwood.
Hilliard accepted the parish’s settlement offer later in the day, said her attorney, Jack E. “Bobby” Truitt.
Roberts wouldn’t say much about the settlement afterward, but he did remark that its timing involved the urging of the judge as well as the parish’s insurance provider. A trial had been set for Jan. 20.
Sources familiar with the negotiations told The New Orleans Advocate that the settlement is in the neighborhood of $200,000. Truitt wouldn’t discuss the settlement amount, citing a confidentiality requirement that was part of the agreement.
Hilliard worked for Jefferson Parish as the chief administrative assistant for public safety from Dec. 13, 2010, to May 24, 2012, according to court documents. She accused former Deputy Chief Operating Officer Richard Hart of harassing her with “sexually offensive language and vulgar comments” for several months starting in February 2011. She complained of Hart’s behavior to parish higher-ups for about nine months beginning in March 2011, she said.
Jefferson Parish had an outside firm investigate Hilliard’s claims, and it found that Hart — the No. 3 person in parish government — had violated the workplace policy on harassment. Hart resigned on Feb. 12, 2012, two days after Jefferson Parish got the investigative report.
Less than a month later, Hilliard received her first employment evaluation from the parish, and it was “deeply critical of her job performance,” court documents said. She was fired fewer than three months later.
In January 2013, Hilliard sued the parish; its president, John Young Jr.; and Hart, alleging discrimination, sexual harassment, a hostile workplace and unjust retaliation for complaining. On Jan. 8, U.S. District Judge Jane Triche Milazzo dismissed all claims with the exception of the retaliation one against the parish. Young and Hart had been dismissed as defendants earlier.
The parish and Hilliard settled the case six days prior to the start of jury selection, for which questions had been proposed by both sides.
Truitt said his client felt “vindicated” following the settlement. He said it indicates she accurately claimed she was unfairly retaliated against because of her harassment complaint.
The parish was defended by a team of lawyers including Parish Attorney Deborah Cunningham Foshee.