A former St. John the Baptist Parish worker who pleaded guilty to faking chlorine tests of the parish’s water supply has filed a lawsuit that seeks damages from the parish for initially suspending him without pay while he was already on medical leave and without giving him an opportunity to refute the allegations in a hearing.
Kevin Branch, of LaPlace, pleaded guilty last month to two counts of false swearing.
In his five-page lawsuit, filed this month at 40th Judicial District Court in Edgard, Branch alleges that his rights were violated because he was suspended without pay in the fall while authorities — including State Police and the Attorney General’s Office — investigated the claims against him.
Three weeks after he was suspended, Branch objected to the move in a letter to the parish, according to his lawsuit, noting that he wasn’t afforded a hearing beforehand and had been on medical leave when the suspension went into effect.
Branch heard back from the parish in mid-November and was told that he could return to work. He did but was eventually fired in March.
In early April, Branch notified the Civil Service Board that he would appeal his 45-day suspension. His appeal was heard at the end of May, and the board ruled against him in a 4-to-3 decision.
Branch is represented by LaPlace attorney Nghana Lewis Gauff.
The lawsuit says Branch was “already suffering from mental anguish and severe emotional distress” when the suspension was handed down, and that the punishment worsened his condition, leading him to suffer from “nightmares, nausea, sleeplessness and weight loss.”
In addition to compensatory and general damages, the lawsuit seeks punitive damages as well as litigation costs and attorneys’ fees.
Parish President Natalie Robottom declined to comment on the lawsuit Tuesday.
In October, Branch and a colleague, Danielle Roussel, of Paulina, were indicted by a grand jury on charges of malfeasance in office and filing or maintaining false public records tied to the faked tests.
The charges were handed up two months after the state Department of Health and Hospitals reported that tests of the parish water supply showed the presence of the Naegleria fowleri amoeba, commonly known as the “brain-eating amoeba.” The amoeba was detected in the water lines servicing St. John’s Water District No. 1, which includes about 12,500 residents in Garyville, Mount Airy, Reserve and part of LaPlace.
The 2014 indictment alleged that Branch and Roussel failed to complete the required water testing, then falsified testing logs to reflect work they had not done.
In exchange for pleading to the lesser charges, they were each given a suspended sentence of a year in jail, plus six months’ probation. Branch was ordered to perform 80 hours of community service, while Roussel was told to perform 40 hours. Each also was ordered to pay a $400 fine.
Follow Richard Thompson on Twitter, @rthompsonMSY.