Federal Judge Refuses to Dismiss Polygraph-Related Discrimination Lawsuit

Penny Brown Roberts reports for the Baton Rouge, Louisiana Advocate in an article titled, ‘Shocking’ discrimination suit kept alive.” Excerpt:

A federal judge has refused to dismiss a former detective’s claims that he endured racial harassment and discrimination in the Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office for years, and was wrongly fired for assisting a 2001 Louisiana State Police investigation of one of the sheriff’s friends.

In a ruling released Monday, U.S. District Judge James Brady said Willie Turner’s allegations — one of which the judge described as “shocking” — “more than meet the standard for establishing a hostile work environment.”

In doing so, Brady refused a request by Sheriff Willie Graves, who denies Turner’s allegations, to dismiss the lawsuit.

“Direct evidence of discrimination is a rare thing indeed,” Brady wrote. “For summary judgment purposes, the court is convinced that direct evidence of discrimination rears its ugly head in this case.”

Turner, a former professional football player, joined the Sheriff’s Office in 1987 as a road deputy and was promoted to detective a year later. He was fired in August 2001 and sued Graves in April 2002.

In his lawsuit, Turner — who claims he began keeping a record of the alleged incidents in 1996 — alleges colleagues regularly referred to black people as “blue gums,” “little black Sambos” and other ethnic slurs, sometimes over the police radio.

Turner also alleges officers routinely spit coffee and tobacco across his desk, incident reports and family photos; left food stamps in his chair; and — when a fruit tray was delivered to the office — told him “we left you some watermelon.”

Graves alleges Turner was fired after the sheriff discovered he had provided documents to St. Helena Parish Sheriff’s Deputy Rod Volgamore, who was assisting State Police in an investigation.

According to evidence the Sheriff’s Office filed in federal court, the documents became part of an investigation by the State Police Gaming Division of Livingston Parish businessman Rudy Chandler.

Chandler — alleged in court documents to be a close friend of Graves — is co-owner of a video gaming truck stop on Highway 16 in St. Helena Parish. No charges were ever filed in the case.

Graves claims Turner provided criminal history records — including a rap sheet, photographs and offense reports — to Volgamore, who also works security for a competing video gaming establishment. Additional documents implied the Sheriff’s Office had attempted to cover up the investigation, Graves alleges in court documents.

Turner allegedly failed a polygraph exam when questioned about the documents. Graves then instructed Turner’s supervisor, Kearney Foster, to fire him.

“He was fired for violating my policy and procedure,” Graves said. “There was no whistle-blowing on any investigation. He was fired for releasing documents he did not have the authority to release.”

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