An Orleans Parish Sheriff’s Office employee who claims he was “verbally assaulted” and called a racial slur by Sheriff Marlin Gusman’s top deputy has filed a discrimination lawsuit in federal court.
The employee, Ronald Coleman Sr., claims Chief Deputy Jerry Ursin threatened him and referred to him as a “stupid, ungrateful n*****” during an argument over parking last summer.
The encounter was widely discussed within the Sheriff’s Office at the time and even was witnessed by some outsiders, according to sources familiar with the incident.
Ursin, a longtime veteran of the New Orleans Police Department who now serves as Gusman’s second-in-command, is white. Coleman, an engineer who has worked at the Sheriff’s Office since February 2014, is black, as is Gusman.
In his lawsuit, filed last week in U.S. District Court, Coleman said he had been summoned in early August to investigate a “hot complaint” on the second floor of an administrative Sheriff’s Office building known as the CWA, located next to the Conchetta detention facility on Tulane Avenue.
Coleman said he examined the air-conditioning units on the roof but also needed to check some units inside the building, a task that required the use of an 18-foot ladder.
He said he parked his department vehicle in the parking lot and encountered an irate Ursin as he returned to the vehicle.
“Do you know that you are blocking my parking?” Ursin said, according to the complaint.
Ursin, Coleman alleges, berated him for disregarding a “do not park” sign, calling him “ungrateful, selfish and just plain stupid.”
Coleman “attempted to explain and offer an apology,” the complaint says, “but Deputy Chief Ursin requested his name” and employee ID number.
“You will pay for this,” Ursin added, according to the complaint.
Ursin declined comment Monday on Coleman’s allegations. A Sheriff’s Office spokesman and an attorney for Gusman also had no comment on the lawsuit.
The lawsuit, which names Gusman and Ursin as defendants, seeks unspecified damages and a court order “permanently restraining (the defendants) from engaging in such unlawful conduct.”
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission informed Coleman in February that it had closed its investigation into the matter and was “unable to determine whether or not a violation of the law” had occurred.
Before receiving his so-called right-to-sue notice, Coleman told the EEOC that he had complained to two supervisors, as well as Gusman, “to no avail.”
Philip Stelly, a Sheriff’s Office spokesman, did not respond to questions Monday about whether the Sheriff’s Office conducted an internal investigation into Coleman’s claims.
Follow Jim Mustian on Twitter, @JimMustian.