Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal is at the center of another lawsuit — this time for allegedly rescinding a job offer after learning the deputy applicant is HIV positive.
Judge Michael Juneau denied a motion by the plaintiff on Thursday to issue liability in the case to Ackal for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and instead scheduled the case for trial. The judge made it clear during the hearing that his decision wasn't based on the case's merit. Instead, it was based on Ackal's unavailability for a deposition the plaintiff's team has been seeking for years.
The sheriff had been unable to give a deposition for the case until two weeks ago because of family and medical concerns, according to his attorney, Edward Barousse.
"You got your work cut out for you, Mr. Barousse," the judge told him. "You really do."
William "Liam" Pierce applied for a position as a deputy with the Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office in 2012, completed the background check and was approved by the hiring board, according to court records. Pierce was offered the job and completed the required medical examination, but upon learning that Pierce was HIV positive, the sheriff's office rescinded the job offer, the lawsuit says.
"In our view, there really aren't any facts to which the sheriff could testify that would change the outcome of this case," said Scott Schoettes, the attorney representing Pierce. "Regardless of why, exactly, he did what he did, the fact is they signed off on an offer to this person and either failed to properly investigate his background, or indeed, as we believe, discriminated against him based on his HIV status and refused to provide him with this job after learning he is HIV positive."
The sheriff's office isn't arguing that Pierce could not have performed the job because of his HIV status. Instead, the defense argues that Pierce's job offer was rescinded because of an incident that occurred while he was working for another law enforcement agency.
"I think the sheriff's testimony is key to the case," Barousse said after Thursday's court appearance. "In the past, he's not always been well. It seems that the judge agreed."
Pierce was terminated from the Abbeville Police Department, where he worked from 2009 to 2012, for discharging a firearm while he had two prisoners in custody, according to court records. That information was disclosed in writing on his Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office job application and orally during the interview process, according to Pierce and his legal team.
Pierce filed a charge of discrimination in October 2012 under the ADA with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The EEOC determined probable cause in 2016, and Pierce filed a discrimination lawsuit against the sheriff's office in October 2017.
Pierce said during a Thursday interview that he has three goals for the lawsuit — for the Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office to admit wrongdoing, to improve education and training of law enforcement staff and to prevent others from being wrongfully discriminated against.
"There's no doubt it's impacted me," Pierce said. "At the time, it was traumatizing. Now, it's always a question if I'll be discriminated against and have to go through this process again. When does this insanity stop? When will people become educated?"
Former Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office employees Captain Ryan Turner and Captain Rickey Boudreaux are named alongside Ackal in the lawsuit. Turner and Boudreaux have given depositions for the case, in addition to other sheriff's office employees who aren't named in the lawsuit.
Pierce's team said they were told at one point to proceed without Ackal's deposition.
"We're disappointed that everything has been drug out after this situation," Pierce said. "It's time to make things right. It's just been drug out for quite a while now."
When asked if it was just a coincidence that Ackal was only made available for deposition two weeks before Thursday's court appearance, his attorney was elusive.
"I think I'll demur on that," Barousse said.
His response was similar when asked what he thought of the judge's candid comments to him about the difficult case ahead of the defense.
"I'll demur to that as well," Barousse said.
Maj. Wendell Raborn, spokesman for the Iberia Parish Sheriff's Office, said Ackal could not comment for this story.
"We do not comment on ongoing litigation," he said.
Once Ackal gives a deposition, Pierce's legal team can file another motion to assign liability.
In the meantime, the judge set a trial date for Jan. 6 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Louisiana. A pre-trial court appearance is set for Dec. 18.