After being fired for not typing fast enough, a former deputy is suing the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office, claiming it was a hostile work environment where he faced age discrimination and had to listen to “sexually offensive” language.
In the suit filed in federal court, former deputy Mark Richard alleges that his 2016 firing was a civil rights violation based on his age as well as a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, saying he faced abuse following an injury he received on the job.
Central to the suit is Richard’s interactions with fellow deputy Patrick Penton, who Richard claims harassed him because of his age, calling him “old man.”
The lawsuit says that Richard, who was 49 in 2016, can “take a joke but this was beyond the pale as Penton would make these comments in front of the public while he and (Richard) were on calls.”
One incident that seemed to escalate things occurred the night of March 15, 2016, when Richard went to question a “juvenile male” walking in the middle of a road, the suit says.
While Richard was doing a warrant check, a car tried to run him over, he said. He then alerted dispatch and within minutes, Penton and Cpl. Tony Holloway arrived on the scene.
According to the lawsuit, Holloway let the driver of the car go after she told him she didn’t see Richard because his car’s overhead lights weren’t on.
“Of course my lights were on. I was on a stop,” Richard alleges he told Holloway.
The lawsuit claims that Richard was then demoted to the radio room on April 5, 2016, because of the incident and had his pay reduced by $10,000 a year.
The lawsuit also claims that “no one had ever been demoted to the radio room from being a road deputy before.”
Adding to his trouble, Richard slammed his hand in a car door on March 31, 2016, resulting in a broken pinky and swelling in his right hand. The lawsuit says he had a doctor’s order of “light duty, but no typing at all” as a result.
Instead, Richard claims, his shifts in the radio room included 12 hours of typing, during which he had to listen to the almost all-female staff discuss “penis sizes they preferred, oral sex techniques, and positions in which they liked to have sex,” and alleges that “they actually sent a ruler around the room and each operator held the ruler to the length of the penis size they preferred.”
The lawsuit also says a sergeant in the radio room did a “ 'sexy dance’ on four occasions where she squeezed her breast up and wiggled her butt across the office.”
After he complained about his co-workers' behavior, Richard claims, the work environment became hostile, and he was given a typing test, on which he typed 22 words per minute, under the minimum of 25 words a minute.
Things came to a head on Aug. 9, 2016, when Richard was informed that “due to my struggling in the radio room” he was fired. The lawsuit alleges that former Chief Deputy Fred Oswald made the decision.
Three hours after his firing, the lawsuit says, Richard went to see his doctor, who told him that he had aggravated his injuries because of the amount of typing he had done.
Richard then went to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which started an investigation into his allegations. After receiving a "notice of right to sue" letter from the commission on July 5, 2017, Richard filed his lawsuit on Sept. 27.
Richard’s attorney, John Pieksen, did not respond to requests for comment on this story.
The St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office had no comment. All of the alleged events happened under previous Sheriff Jack Strain, not current Sheriff Randy Smith.