METAIRIE, La. - A pattern of workplace harassment existed in the upper echelons of Jefferson Parish government, with a former top official making crude comments about “Thong Thursdays” and referencing the parish president and a “booty call,” according to a report.
A parish-sponsored investigation found that Richard Hart, the former Deputy Chief Operating Officer and third-highest-ranking parish official, harassed female employees and was an overall liability. That investigation concluded in February of last year and resulted in the resignation of Hart, a friend and ally of President John Young.
The report was recently entered into the court record in a federal civil suit filed by Heather Hilliard, the parish’s former head of emergency preparedness. Hilliard claims she made more than 25 complaints regarding Hart’s harassment over a nine-month period, and that top parish officials ignored her claims. She was fired last May.
Kriss Fortunato, spokeswoman for Young's administration, declined to comment on the matter Friday, citing pending litigation.
The harassment investigation was undertaken in late 2011 and early 2012 by an outside firm. Investigators interviewed numerous parish employees, including Hilliard and Hart.
Hilliard claimed Hart repeatedly made crude and sexist remarks in executive meetings. She said he talked of “Thong Thursdays,” when joking about employees wearing pink bracelets in honor of a colleague fighting breast cancer, the report states. Hart also joked about a “booty call,” in reference to Young calling female parish employees at night on business, Hilliard alleged.
Hart, who took the COO post in 2010, portrayed himself as having a utility role in parish government, supervising “no one and everyone,” and following the directives of Young. He stated he had numerous issues with Hilliard regarding her job performance.
He acknowledged making a “booty call” reference, which he said was directed at John Young and no one else. He told investigators that it was something he heard on television and that there was no sexual intent in the statement.
Hart also acknowledged that Young had told him on several occasions to be more professional in meetings.
A majority of the parish employees interviewed had “extreme concerns of retaliation and feared for their jobs,” the report noted. Most of the employees corroborated Hilliard’s claims. Some asked that the matter not be “swept under the rug.”
The investigation found that Hart had violated policies regarding workplace harassment and recommended that Hart be fired or given the option to resign.
He resigned in February of last year. At the time, Young released a statement calling Hart's departure a "tremendous loss."
"Richard Hart has been integral to the reform efforts undertaken during the first year of this Administration. I am disappointed to lose his vision, energy, and expertise,” Young said. He declined to comment further at the time.
Young, who apparently knew then of the investigations and the findings, said he would not comment further on the resignation.
Weeks later, Hilliard received a performance review, earning substandard marks. She was fired last May.
Hilliard’s lawsuit names Jefferson Parish, Young and Hart as defendants. The matter is pending in federal court.
The investigation also recommended that parish government "provide training for the entire Jefferson Parish Executive Leadership Team" regarding workplace harassment.
WWL-TV asked Fortunato, the spokeswoman, if this had taken place. She declined to comment, citing the litigation.