A former longtime state Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control agent fired in mid-August for allegedly texting racial and sexual comments to co-workers is fighting back with a federal lawsuit against ATC Commissioner Troy Hebert.
Brette Tingle contends the reasons for his termination were “false and bogus” and that his firing was the culmination of a “relentless campaign” by Hebert to discredit him as a witness in state and federal court litigation alleging systematic racial discrimination by the commissioner to eliminate black employees from supervisory positions at ATC.
Hebert has called those claims ridiculous.
Tingle, of Ascension Parish, is white. He began working at ATC in 1997 and served most recently as special agent in charge of ATC’s New Orleans region.
In his suit, filed Sept. 16 in Baton Rouge federal court, Tingle seeks reinstatement and damages. The suit claims retaliation, wrongful termination and defamation.
“It is appalling that Mr. Tingle was harassed and terminated after many years of dedicated service,” his attorney, J. Arthur Smith III, said Wednesday in a prepared statement announcing the suit. “We intend to clear Mr. Tingle’s good name and reinstate his career and the benefits that accrue from many years of public service.”
Hebert responded forcefully Wednesday when asked to comment on the suit.
“Maybe Mr. Tingle needs to man up and take responsibility for his own actions and words. He needs to stop blaming others and costing the taxpayers thousands of dollars by filing suits to cover up his mistakes,” Hebert said in an email.
The ATC alleged in an Aug. 18 disciplinary letter that Tingle — in cellphone texts with other ATC workers — used racial slurs and made sexually suggestive remarks to and about women. The letter also claims he referenced using marijuana and threatened his superiors.
“Mr. Tingle claims to be a hero to African-Americans,” Hebert said Wednesday, “yet in his own words on his state-issued cellphone, he claimed he hated them and called them the ‘Scourge of the Earth!!!’ ”
The letter further claims Tingle falsified payroll records to make it appear he had been working at times when he was not.
The internal investigation into Tingle’s payroll documentation found he had been at home when he should have been at work. In one 55-day span in which he should have been working, GPS records indicated Tingle was absent for 37 days.
“Remember this. Troy Hebert did not say he did these things. Two nonbiased electronic gadgets called a cellphone and a GPS device showed he did. As long as I am commissioner, that will not be tolerated,” Hebert added.
Smith told ATC in a February letter that Tingle sometimes left his state-issued vehicle at home so he could perform undercover operations or drove his personal automobile to work.
Tingle was accused in 2003 of stealing ATC property. He was given a three-day leave without pay in 2004 for failure to follow directives and conduct unbecoming of an agent for allegedly not properly inspecting businesses and not following his superiors’ instructions. In 2008, Tingle was suspended for one day without pay for not filing his income tax return on time.
Tingle’s suit against Hebert has been assigned to Chief U.S. District Judge Brian Jackson.