A fired Kenner employee who was later reinstated by the city’s Civil Service Board has sued the city, Mayor Mike Yenni and two other officials for using an allegedly “sham investigation” to terminate him for speaking out about misconduct and associating with someone the mayor doesn’t like.
Joey Metzler, an electrician in the Code Enforcement Department, is seeking damages and attorney’s fees in federal court, alleging the city violated his constitutional rights to speak out on matters of public concern and associate freely with people he chooses.
Metzler was fired on March 25, 2014, over what the city said was his poor driving record. It said there had been anonymous complaints about him over the years, and a crossing guard had come forward saying Metzler had pulled around a stopped tractor in front of a school and almost hit her.
In October, however, Kenner’s Civil Service Board voted 4-1 to reinstate Metzler.
As he has before, Metzler said in his lawsuit this week that he was fired for other reasons: his refusal to sign off on a city sewer project because the lift stations were built below the flood elevation; his complaint that a city employee was not reporting money she had collected and that she had concealed a criminal conviction on her original job application; and his association with Jack Zewe, a critic of the Yenni administration who frequently files public-records requests and whom Yenni has called “a nuisance.”
In the lawsuit, Metzler calls Zewe “an acquaintance” who acts as a “one-person citizen watchdog committee” and who makes “good use of the Louisiana Public Records Act to collect information that would be useful to the citizens of Kenner.”
The suit says the city had looked into the Sept. 26, 2013, incident with the crossing guard on three occasions and found no wrongdoing by Metzler.
A fourth investigation, Metzler says, ignored potential eyewitnesses and failed to take into consideration that the crossing guard had since been fired over a run-in with a Kenner police officer and that she had a history of confrontations with parents and school officials.
After the three-day civil service hearing, Kenner’s attorney, Alvin Bordelon, said the city still stood behind Metzler’s firing but didn’t have a good witness in the crossing guard and couldn’t convince the board its motives were pure.
The suit — which also names Amy Vallot, the code enforcement director when Metzler was fired, and Richard Walther, the assistant director — once again made reference to a meeting Yenni had with Robert Miles, who had spoken up for Metzler publicly at a council meeting, saying the city was hassling Metzler because he was a whistleblower.
According to the suit, Miles, who is Metzler’s uncle, said Yenni told him at that meeting that Metzler was one of the city’s better inspectors but “his problem was being too close to Zewe.”
Yenni said during the civil service hearing that he wasn’t involved in the decision to fire Metzler but that he might have made a comment to Miles about Zewe, who he said has filed more than 100 public-records requests with the city, which Yenni characterized as attacks.
The suit also references the city’s hiring of a private investigator to follow Metzler and three other employees to see how they spent their time. It claims the city purchased the investigator’s report on Metzler but not the other three.
Metzler maintains the report was skewed to claim he misrepresented how much time he worked. He said he was ultimately exonerated after a hearing with Tamithia Shaw, who was the department’s director at the time.
Kenner spokesman Bob Ross said the city had yet to be served with the lawsuit and therefore had no comment.
Follow Chad Calder on Twitter, @Chad_Calder.