Lawsuit accuses Shaw of retaliation

A former employee of Shaw Environmental & Infrastructure Inc. alleges in a lawsuit filed this week that he was harassed, demoted and ultimately fired for reporting alleged illegal activities in Louisiana’s home elevation grant program and for cooperating with law enforcement.

Mark Pilie, who was hired by Shaw in September 2005 and terminated last February, claims in the suit that he wore a recording device during a meeting with elevation contractors in mid-2011 and turned the recording over to a Jefferson Parish sheriff’s deputy. The deputy had asked that Pilie wear a wire to record the meeting, the suit says.

“Mr. Pilie courageously stood up for what was right,” his attorney, Jill Craft, said Friday. “Unfortunately, a heavy price was extracted. He lost his job and his career merely for doing what is right. He was asked to help law enforcement and he did. He did what all citizens should.”

Pilie, of St. Tammany Parish, contends in his suit that he recorded an elevation contractor admitting he had given money and jewelry to Courage Idusuyi, but the contractor called the money and jewelry a gift.

The state Office of Community Development announced in August 2011 the suspension of two state supervisors, Idusuyi and David Knight. Idusuyi was the state’s production team leader for the Hazard Mitigation Grant Program.

Christina Stephens, with the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, serves as the HMGP spokeswoman and said Friday that the state fired Idusuyi at the end of 2011. Knight resigned last March, she added.

Shaw monitors the $750 million HMGP, a federally funded home elevation program, for the state. OCD administers the program, which was put in place after Hurricane Katrina. Under the program, homeowners in flood-prone areas can receive grants of up to $100,000 to elevate their homes.

“It is our policy not to comment on any current or pending litigation,” Shaw spokeswoman Gentry Brann said Friday. “However, I can tell you that Shaw is firmly committed to a workplace that is free from any form of discrimination, harassment or retaliation.”

OCD launched an internal probe of the grant program’s policies and procedures in the summer of 2011 after two self-described whistleblowers — former Shaw workers Christy Weiser and Thomas Pierson — filed suit against Shaw and OCD. Their suit accused state officials of selling confidential information about homeowners and steering work to contractors in exchange for meals and gifts.

At least four different agencies are investigating possible wrongdoing in the home elevation program, including the federal Homeland Security Inspector General and the state Attorney General’s Office.

Baton Rouge lawyer Jill Craft represents Pilie, Weiser and Pierson.

Pilie’s suit, filed Tuesday in state district court in Baton Rouge, seeks an unspecified amount of damages from Shaw. His suit has been assigned to state District Judge William Morvant.

Weiser’s and Pierson’s suit, filed in Baton Rouge state court in May 2011, is assigned to state District Judge Wilson Fields and also seeks damages. Shaw has denied their retaliation allegations.

Fields issued a gag order in the Weiser-Pierson case last year, but a state appeals court rescinded the order and ordered Fields to hold a hearing to determine whether such an order is appropriate. That hearing is set for Feb. 25.

Two New Orleans women, Wanda Acker Williams and Brianna LaFrance, pleaded guilty last February in federal court in New Orleans to conspiring to sell the names of residents eligible for Katrina home elevation grants. They worked as analysts on the state’s HMGP.

Rickey Davis, who helped secure contracts with homeowners for general contractors and subcontractors, pleaded guilty in May to bribery. Federal prosecutors said Davis paid Williams for the names of eligible homeowners.