Former JP public safety official files lawsuit claiming sexual harrassment

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wwltv.com

Posted on January 30, 2013 at 11:49 AM

Updated Wednesday, Jan 30 at 2:55 PM

Brendan McCarthy / Eyewitness News
Email: bmccarthy@wwltv.com | Twitter: @bmccarthyWWL

A former Jefferson Parish public safety official has filed a federal lawsuit against parish government, claiming she was continuously sexually harassed.

Heather Hilliard, who served as head of parish emergency preparedness for over a year, alleges she was fired last May after logging numerous harassment complaints against Richard Hart, the former deputy chief operating officer.

Hilliard alleged officials were slow to act, and that they became dissatisfied with her job performance only after she made the complaints.

In her lawsuit, Hilliard alleges Hart "habitually used sexually offensive language and made vulgar comments," and he continued those actions despite her repeated complaints to supervisors.
Hart resigned last February, reportedly under scrutiny.

As deputy chief operating officer, Hart was considered the third highest official in parish government. Hilliard claims he was a good friend and political ally of Parish President John Young.

According to her lawsuit, the parish's director of human resources initiated an investigation into the matter. Hilliard claims 21 witnesses were interviewed as part of the parish probe, and that several of them noted that Hart was inappropriate.

That inquiry concluded in February. It found that Hart harassed colleagues and that his actions were "systematic," the lawsuit notes. He resigned two days later.

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.

Within weeks, Hilliard received her first employee performance review. She earned substandard marks. In May, Hilliard was fired and told in an exit interview she "wasn't working out," according to the lawsuit.

The parish's attorney, Deborah Cunningham Foshee, released the following statement this afternoon.

"The Parish Attorney's Office learned this morning of a lawsuit filed last night in federal court by former employee Heather Hilliard," Foshee wrote. "This matter is a personnel matter about which we will make no public comment. The litigation will be handled by an outside law firm and we will defer to that law firm for further handling."

 

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