A former St. Tammany Parish Hospital mailroom clerk who saw her job handed to the brother of then-District Attorney Walter Reed while she was on medical leave in 2014 is suing the public hospital for allegedly violating the federal Family and Medical Leave Act.
Faye Dennis, a 40-year employee of the hospital, claims she was illegally terminated.
Her lawsuit, filed in federal court earlier this month, says that Dennis was forced to resign in May 2014 because she was assigned to a job she could not physically perform when she returned from medical leave following knee surgery.
Her job in the mailroom had been given to Richard Reed, and upon her return to work, she was assigned to the hospital warehouse.
“This job entailed working outside of the hospital building and running supplies to wherever the supplies were needed in the hospital,” the suit said. “This new job was not close to being equivalent in terms of duties or physical requirements to Dennis’ former part-time job in the mail room.”
Dennis reported the problem to Amy Loar, a human resources supervisor, who refused to give her the old job back, according to the suit.
Dennis’ suit says Reed had no experience running a mail room “and had little or no aptitude for it,” but that he nevertheless got paid more than she did: $18 an hour, compared with the $12.50 she had been getting.
Reed also was a full-time employee, while Dennis had seen her hours cut to 20 per week in 2011, when the hospital said that a new program had eliminated some of her workload.
Melissa Hodgson, spokeswoman for St. Tammany Parish Hospital, said she could not comment on the suit but said, “St. Tammany Parish Hospital stands by its fair employment practices, and we believe we have been fair in this particular situation as well.”
Dennis described herself as her family’s breadwinner in an earlier interview with The New Orleans Advocate. The suit says she had never been subject to disciplinary actions, had received “uniformly glowing” work evaluation reports and “occupied significant and necessary positions of trust at the hospital.”
Reed, by contrast, was the subject of several email exchanges among hospital brass discussing how to make his employment look less politically motivated after he resigned in June 2014.
In one exchange, Vice President Jean Holtman said the hospital should replace Reed with a full-time employee even though a half-time worker could cover his duties. When Chief Financial Officer Tim Lessing asked why, Holtman said it would help persuade the public that his position was needed.
“I’m concerned that it is more obvious that (the hospital) made a position for Richard,” Holtman wrote in an email first made public by WVUE-TV and nola.com. “This may not be the best light for our hospital to be seen in.”
Both Holtman and Lessing have since left the hospital.
Richard Reed resigned shortly after his brother gave up his $30,000-a-year job providing legal counsel to the hospital’s board.
Walter Reed is scheduled to stand trial next month. The federal criminal case against him, much of which focuses on his spending of campaign money, also alleges that he committed fraud by personally taking money from the hospital that should have gone to the District Attorney’s Office.
When Reed announced that he would not seek a sixth term, shortly after giving up the hospital contract, he criticized what he called “abhorrent” attacks on his brother. He said he had no idea there had been any controversy over his brother’s work and that he had not tried to influence personnel decisions by the hospital.
A few months later, Richard Reed became the focus of news coverage on his own when he was booked on a count of sexual battery after he allegedly groped a drunk woman at a bar. He was indicted a year ago on charges of sexual battery, second-degree kidnapping, impeding a witness and intimidating a police officer.
He is scheduled to go to trial in May.
Follow Sara Pagones on Twitter, @spagonesadvocat.