NAACP official sues Independence and its mayor, claims wrongful firing

The head of the Tangipahoa Parish chapter of the NAACP has sued the town of Independence and its mayor for wrongful termination, claiming she was let go in 2013 because of her race.

Patricia Morris said she worked as a clerk for the town’s sewer and water department for six months before Mayor Michael Ragusa said he could no longer afford to keep her on the payroll. Morris, who is black, alleges in her lawsuit that Ragusa, who is white, hired a new superintendent for the department as well as a clerk, both white, soon after her Oct. 24 termination.

Morris’ lawsuit, filed June 30 in federal district court in New Orleans, alleges her termination and treatment were racially discriminatory, intentional, malicious or recklessly indifferent and a violation of her civil rights under federal law.

She seeks medical expenses for anguish and depression, back pay, reinstatement or front-pay, punitive damages and attorney fees and costs.

Town attorney Brett Duncan said Tuesday the town had not yet been served with the lawsuit but acknowledged the issue had been the subject of an investigation by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

In her complaint, Morris said the clerk position she held had been advertised as a full-time position with benefits, but that she was never given full-time hours or benefits.

Morris said she “inquired on several occasions, before her termination, but she never received a reason why she was allowed to work only three days a week instead of a full-time position.”

Morris also alleged she was denied opportunities for additional training and experience, despite requesting several times to learn how to operate other areas of the clerk’s office.

Morris said she had no reprimands, write-ups or other disciplinary actions brought against her during her six-month tenure as clerk.

“Defendants’ actions constituted extreme and outrageous behavior, and was intended to and caused (Morris) severe emotional distress,” she alleges in her complaint.

The case has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier.

Follow Heidi R. Kinchen on Twitter @HeidiRKinchen.