GONZALES — Ascension Parish's fired human resources director secretly copied or took without authorization confidential personnel records the morning after she was terminated in September and has refused to return the records, the parish alleges in a lawsuit.
Parish government officials are accusing Taleta Wesley of having made photocopies for more than hour before the sun rose Sept. 13 after arriving at the parish HR Building in Donaldsonville about 5 a.m.
The lawsuit asks a judge to order Wesley to turn over the records and to bar her from revealing any information she learned from those records or her time as director without a court order. The suit comes as Wesley is scheduled to appear before the Parish Council on Thursday night in a public hearing to appeal a disciplinary complaint against her and her subsequent termination Sept. 12.
Among the records Wesley copied or took, the suit alleges, are highly sensitive Family Medical Leave Act records, a working copy of the parish personnel manual with proposed edits, a confidential report containing employee citizenship and immigration forms, and confidential documents from the parish Human Resources Review Board.
"It is not yet known the full extent of all documents that may have been copied and removed from the HR Office by Taleta Wesley on September 13, 2018," the lawsuit adds.
The suit raises the stakes in a dispute between the parish and the former administrator, who had been widely greeted at her hiring last year as a key player who would help shepherd major structural reforms to the parish’s operations.
In a termination letter to Wesley earlier this year, Chief Administrative Officer Ken Dawson wrote that her tenure in Ascension wasn’t "working out” amid disciplinary and other recent infractions. Those included a claim she showed disrespect to parish leaders during another employee’s closed-door appeal hearing and an accusation of insubordination for changing an employee’s work status without the parish president’s approval.
Wesley has refused to comment on her termination, but a few in the parish have defended her. Parish Councilman Travis Turner said when she was terminated that "the head honchos" and "main people in charge" didn’t want to listen to her suggestions.
The parish’s suit to get back its records was filed Friday afternoon in 23rd Judicial District Court in Ascension. The suit originally was listed erroneously in the parish Clerk of Court's database as having been brought by the School Board.
Wesley declined to comment Wednesday but said she planned to appear before the council Thursday night in Gonzales.
Kyle Gautreau, spokesman for parish government, declined to comment Wednesday on the lawsuit or, when asked, about whether a criminal complaint has been contemplated or filed.
“But the parish takes very seriously its obligation to safeguard employee records, including tax and healthcare information,” Gautreau said in a statement. “It is shocking and sad that someone who presents herself as an HR Director would engage in this kind of behavior. She has not provided the parish with any documents.”
The suit does not say whose records were taken or copied but does say the Review Board documents applied to other employees, not Wesley.
The appeal before the Parish Council is Wesley’s opportunity to challenge the administration’s decision to fire her after the Review Board, another layer of oversight, already looked at her case and deadlocked on a recommendation. Usually the appeals to the council are in closed session, though all employees have the right to have it in public, as Wesley has requested.
Before the appeal Thursday, the council is scheduled to meet in closed session on three issues related to Wesley: the parish’s latest lawsuit, a separate public records fee lawsuit, and an unemployment benefits claim she made in Texas allegedly related to the Ascension Parish job.
Five days after her termination, the parish had sued Wesley over a public records request she filed the day she was fired. In the request, Wesley had asked for two years of emails, text messages, phone logs and other data from several parish officials, including Parish President Kenny Matassa, Dawson, Facilities Director Thomas “Moose” Pearce, Health and Human Services Director Don Hysell, and other employees.
The parish isn’t disputing that it will turn over the records it has but wants the court to set a reasonable fee, which the suit suggests could top $5,000.
In the latest suit, parish officials allege Wesley had been scheduled to appear at the HR Building, her old office, at 7 a.m. Sept. 13 to meet a parish safety official and be accompanied to gather her belongings. But she arrived two hours earlier and entered the building unsupervised with a key, the suit claims.
A custodian spotted Wesley’s car at the building and saw her making copies that morning. The copy machine’s internal data show copies were made between 5:20 a.m. and 6:30 a.m., the suit alleges.
Employees arriving at 7 a.m. did not find Wesley but found Family Medical Leave Act documents for one employee on the copier and Wesley’s belongings gone.
The suit alleges Wesley later admitted to taking the working personnel manual and was seen in possession of the HR Review Board documents when she appeared before body on Oct. 9, the suit alleges.
The suit also seeks damages and court costs from Wesley.