Discipline problems plague S&WB workforce

Here is a breakdown of those disciplinary cases, along with summaries of the complaints against 23 employees who filed civil service appeals.

Records show S&WB understaffed, dangerously reliant on OT

Down the Drain is a WWL-TV investigative project that explores what went wrong and where the blame lies for New Orleans' drainage crisis. Down the Drain was reported and produced by WWL-TV's investigative team: Katie Moore, David Hammer, Mike Perlstein, TJ Pipitone and Danny Monteverde. Infographics and multimedia design by Sam Winstrom and Kevin Dupuy.

NEW ORLEANS -- Flooding after routine rainstorms. Boil water advisories. Rampant billing mistakes. A laundry list of recent problems has exposed the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board as a troubled agency.

There are many reasons for these issues, ranging from aging infrastructure to weak leadership, from poor strategic planning to lack of coordination with City Hall.

But there’s another core issue repeatedly cited by the agency’s own employees and supervisors: The workforce. In WWL-TV’s special report “Down the Drain,” we document that the agency routinely has more than 300 job vacancies as well as unchecked overtime stretching a dangerously thin workforce. 

Records show S&WB understaffed, dangerously reliant on OT

MORE: Records show S&WB understaffed, dangerously reliant on overtime

Then there is the behavior of the employees themselves. We tallied all civil service disciplinary cases of S&WB employees since 2012 and found 399 separate cases involving 356 employees, some being repeat offenders. In each case, employees were either fired or suspended. 

Here is a breakdown of those disciplinary cases, along with summaries of the complaints against 23 employees who filed civil service appeals.

Leading reasons for disciplinary measures:
1) Positive drug test – 47 cases
2) Job abandonment – 45 cases
3) Attendance problems – 40 cases
4) Insubordination – 27 cases
5) Physical altercation – 13 cases
6) Workplace harassment – 10 cases

 

Summaries of Civil Service appeals


1. Leonard Bowman 
Water Purification Operator I 
Incident: March 22, 2016 
Decision: Oct. 25, 2016
Appeal: DENIED (suspended)

• Did not collect and analyze water samples during a period when the facility lost power. Because no S&WB employee collected and analyzed samples for an approximately six-hour time period, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals found the S&WB in violation of state and federal regulations. 

2. Graylin Cass Jr. 
Water Inspector I 
Incident: March 11, 2014 
Decision: Jan. 19, 2017 
Appeal: DENIED (terminated) 

• Terminated for threatening behavior and use of profanity towards a fellow employee. He had already received a five-day suspension for an “unprofessional and disrespectful interaction with a supervisor.” 
• Told his co-worker in an argument that “He did not have time for this s***” and “stuff like that”. 
• “Appellant told Ms. Nelson (co-worker) that, “if she was a man, he would have thrown her into a garbage can, or words to that effect.”
• “Appellant admitted to telling a city worker that ‘he was from the streets’ and would ‘come back around and shut this motherf*** down.’”

3. Chance Samoy 
Laborer
Incident: May 13, 2015
Decision: May 16, 2017 
Appeal: DENIED (terminated)

• Terminated for continued insubordination and disrespect towards supervisor and workers.
• While out on a paving job, “Appellant threw a piece of paving equipment and cursed at her supervisors and co-workers”
• Called her supervisor "stupid" in front of other co-workers after he asked her to “re-loop” (re-pave) a section of cement. 

4. Elbert Cobbins 
Truck driver (23-year veteran)
Incident: June 27, 2014 
Decision: April 1, 2016
Appeal: DENIED IN PART and GRANTED IN PART (three-day suspension gone, back pay granted)

• Suspended for making a unauthorized stop during his shift (three-day suspension) and for being loud and using profanity towards a supervisor (two-day suspension)
• Stopped his route at S&WB headquarters to use bathroom and take medication. 
• Supervisor at the headquarters alleges that appellant used ‘very vulgar language’ and told Mr. Webster to ‘get the F out of (appellant’s) face,’ 
• Called Mr. Webster a ‘b***.’” 
• S&WB found that the stop wasn’t a violation, but the cursing was. 

5. Carnell Collier 
Networks Quality Assurance and Safety Inspector 
Incident: Aug. 27, 2015 
Decision: Jan. 19, 2017 
Appeal: DENIED (suspended)

• Suspended for violating S&WB policy #94, (vehicle usage); suspended for 48 days. 
• Used a S&WB pick-up truck and backhoe to pick up and transport debris from his house to a S&WB dumpster, saying it was a common practice but admitting to an awareness that this was prohibited. 
• Received a three-day suspension in 2011 for breaking vehicle policy, and was suspended at least two other occasions, leading to the length of this suspension. 

6. Carnell Collier (round two)
Quality Assurance and Safety Inspector (supervised approx. fifty employees)
Incident: Sept. 6, 2015
Decision: Oct. 17, 2017
Appeal: DENIED (terminated)

• Terminated on Feb. 24, 2016 for engaging in “serious misconduct.” 
• Appellant was gambling in a building referred to as the “Labor Shack” on S&WB property during a gathering to celebrate the retirement of a co-worker. Collier denied gambling at the party, but acknowledged it after being presented with photographic evidence. 
• Claimed that employees frequently engaged in gambling while on S&WB property and he did not view the dice game as an issue. 
• The employee who took photos of the gambling referred to them as a “get out of jail free card”
• Fired because he was the supervisor 

7. Darren Brisco
Laborer (permanent status) 
Incident: March 6, 2015 
Decision: May 30, 2017
Appeal: DENIED (terminated)

• Fired for harassment. “Told his supervisor that he ‘had the right to look where he wanted to look,’” after a female co-worker felt uncomfortable multiple times and asked what he was looking at.
• Violated S&WB’s Workplace Harassment Policy 
• Told a female co-worker he could look at her “however the f*** I want.” 

8. DeJouris Duplessis & Michael Duplessis (father and son)
M. Duplessis: supervisor in the pavement and asphalt department
D. Duplessis: foreman
Incident: Dec. 12, 2013
Decision: April 1, 2016
Appeal: DENIED (terminated)

• Appellants fired after they “misappropriated concrete belonging to the S&WB and used it at the home of Michael Duplessiss.” 
• Appellants used S&WB manpower and concrete to build on M. Duplessis’s (father) home. Used manpower to frame the project prior to pouring the concrete. 
• Poured the concrete with a crew after doing a job nearby the house, and told them to deny it if anyone asked. 

9. Joseph A. Dwyer 
Maintenance Engineer 
Incident: March 2014
Decision: Sept. 20, 2016
Appeal: DENIED (suspension)

• Suspended for three days in July 2014 for insubordination. 
• The S&WB alleged that the appellant was directed to vacate an improvised office space and failed to do so. He had previously disregarded the same directive from the same supervisor that March. 
• After failing to leave the vacate office space for months, Dwyer was suspended without pay. 

10. Robinette Harris 
Meter reader
Incident: August, 2014
Decision: April 1, 2016
Appeal: DENIED IN PART and GRANTED in part. (suspension)

• Suspended for 10 days for violating the S&WB policy against workplace harassment by posting “profanity-laced comments against fellow employees” on Facebook. 
• “One of the postings is an animated character holding a fistful of what appear to be dollar bills; the caption of the photo reads ‘You see this sh**?! This is what keeps me from swinging at b*** at my job.’” 
• Ten-day suspension was reduced to a one-day, and back pay granted. 

11. Jerome Campbell 
Networks Maintenance Technician I 
Incident: Dec. 2016
Decision: Aug. 24, 2017
Appeal: DENIED (termination)

• Admitted to OIG investigators to selling approx. 207 lbs. of brass to Uptown Recycling, saying it was common practice for employees to keep scrap metal recovered from work sites and sell them to salvage companies. 
• Appellant said that supervisors and foremen regularly sold scrap metal and split proceeds.
• Cedric Grant said there was no formal training on the issue, but did not think it needed to be in writing that employees should not sell S&WB material. After the investigation, the S&WB instituted revised policies and training for proper recovery, storing and selling of materials. 
• Violation of S&WB policies #49 (Surplus Property) and #74 (Inventory Control)

12. Barbara A. McGee-Mack
Office Support Specialist
Incident: Jan. 30, 2015
Decision: Sept. 27, 2016
Appeal: GRANTED (suspension rescinded and back pay given)

• Appellant was suspended for three days without pay for insubordinate and unacceptable behavior in reaction to receiving a written reprimand from her supervisor.
• Worker was asked to prepare a written summary of day-to-day duties for a supervisor. Appellant refused. So, she was given a written reprimand and removed from overtime eligibility for three months. When she was told about this, allegedly “went off on a 10-minute tantrum” using inappropriate language. 
• Given back pay and had suspension removed from record because the punishment was not commensurate with the offense. 

13. Latrica Miller 
Water Inspector I
Incident: August 2014
Decision: May 9, 2016 
Appeal: DENIED

• Put on emergency suspension and then terminated for violating S&WB policy against workplace harassment by using social media to “threaten co-workers,” and continuing to post a threatening message after a supervisor instructed her to stop. 
• Told a co-meter reader in 2013 that she would pull a gun on her during an argument. The co-worker reported the threat to a supervisor, but nothing was done.
• In one post, the appellant states, “I WON’T GIVE ZERO F*** WHEN MY FIST MEETS YO MOUTH! STRAIGHT LIKE THAT!” She then denied that the fist emojis in the post were fists, and instead clouds. 
• Denied knowing that her co-workers could see her posts, but posted about the “messy b*** that she works with.” Taken as a threat. 

14. Muhammad Yungai 
Environmental Enforcement Technician II 
Incident: June 30, 2016
Decision: July 3, 2017 
Appeal: GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART 

• Suspended for thirty days for violating Policy #34 (Vehicular Accident Procedure) and Policy #11 (Worker’s Compensation Procedure)
• Backed up a S&WB pick-up truck into a concrete base of a lighting fixture. The truck sustained minor damage to the bumper and tailgate. He didn’t report it because he thought it didn’t qualify as a wreck and explained that in his report when a supervisor saw the slight damage months later. 
• Given back 15 days of back pay because the suspension was not commensurate with the offense. 

15. Quentin Doughty
Laborer 
Incident: Dec. 18, 2015
Decision: Aug. 24, 2017
Appeal: GRANTED

• Terminated for violating S&WB’s zero-tolerance policy regarding workplace violence.
• According to the co-worker, appellant engaged a co-worker in a verbal altercation at an S&WB job site, then punched the co-worker in the face. The co-worker hit the ground, where Doughty hit him again in the head and kicked him in the face. 
• According to co-worker, even though they had no prior issues, the appellant attacked his co-worker at a job site after threatening to break his jaw and shoving him. No workers intervened, and the co-worker had to “run around the grass” to escape. He was later hospitalized for a piece of glass that had stuck in his knee and caused an infection, and missed months of work. 
• The supervisors who witnessed the incident did not stop the altercation and denied the co-workers' accounts. 
• Because the supervisors violated so many procedures (reporting the fight, breaking it up, etc.), the S&WB could not put the blame on the appellant. 

16. Adonirum R. Ruth 
Field Supervisor 
Incident: Jan. 28, 2014
Decision: May 5, 2016
Appeal: DENIED

• Ruth was suspended for 90 days for violating the S&WB Maintaining Standards of Service. 
• Left the workplace during a declared weather emergency without permission and crashed a S&WB truck in the process.
• During a freeze emergency, appellant volunteered to stay at “the yard” on standby, and was given rations and told not to leave. The appellant went out to get something to eat, crashed into a guardrail, and caused more than $4,000 worth of damage. 
• S&WB admitted that the length of the suspension was severe but denied the appeal. 

17. Brionne Ruth
Cashier
Incident: March 24, 2014
Decision: April 1, 2016
Appeal: DENIED (suspended)

• “Suspended for three days for failing to maintain the standards of service by ‘force balancing’ her cash drawer and being dishonest about it.”
• The appellant took her cash drawer to her supervisor for balancing and was ten dollars short. Multiple supervisors counted the money with the same result, balanced it, then witnessed her playing with the cash drawer and mysteriously finding the missing money. The tapes were checked, and she was found to have initially tried to take the $10. 

18. Brionne Ruth (round two)
Office Assistant II
Incident: July 14, 2014
Decision: Sept 27, 2016
Appeal: GRANTED (reinstated and record removed)

• Terminated for incident with S&WB customer, in which she “engaged in a heated verbal altercation with a customer.” Appellant used profanity and pushed a co-worker who had tried to break up the situation. 
• After dealing with the irate customer and trying to contact a supervisor, the appellant started yelling and cursing back at the customer after allegedly being threatened. 
• According to her, she left her cashier booth to get away from the customer and call a supervisor, not to confront the customer. 
• Because neither the customer, other cashiers nor NOPD officer on scene testified, there was not enough information to fire the appellant. 

19. Terrie Doyle
Office Assistant Trainee 
Incident: 
Decision: Aug. 24, 2017
Appeal: GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART (reinstated)

• Given a five-day suspension and later terminated for violation of attendance policy. 
• The S&WB found that she had skipped enough days to warrant a five-day suspension, but they had preemptively fired her and had to give her one more day before there was grounds for termination. 

20. Deril Valdery 
Networks Technician I
Incident: May 11, 2015
Decision: Sept. 27, 2017
Appeal: GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART (back pay and suspension removed)

• Given a three-day suspension for insubordination and violation of the S&WB work place harassment policy. 
• Failed to excavate a work site using a backhoe and instead ordered his crew to perform the excavation by hand, and then used profanity when one of the employees asked about the work. 
• Called his supervisor stupid and said “f*** you.” 
• Not enough proof to establish insubordination, and downgraded to a written reprimand. 

21. Deril Valdery (round 2)
Networks Maintenance Technician I 
Incident: October 19, 2015
Decision: March 27, 2017 
Appeal: DENIED 

• Suspended for 15 days in connection to allegations of insubordination and leaving a work assignment without authorization 
• Failed to follow directives issued by supervisors to train a new S&WB employee. Co-worker went untrained, forcing the supervisors to do so. 
• Was repeatedly told to bring excavation equipment to work sites for worker training but did not. 

22. Johnny Washington 
Laborer
Incident: Aug. 29, 2013
Decision: Feb. 22, 2017
Appeal: GRANTED (suspension removed and back pay granted)

• Suspended for 40 working days for involvement in a physical altercation. 
• Allegedly imitated a verbal altercation with a fellow employee while on duty, which escalated to the point where the co-worker allegedly struck the appellant, causing him to fall backwards into a S&WB vehicle. 
• Although he was not the aggressor, his verbal actions violated the zero-tolerance violence policy. 
• Appellant asked Mr. Riley why he “kept putting my name in his mouth.” 
• Got out of the moving truck after arguing over leaving a job site early, where appellant was struck. 
• Granted appeal because his actions did not violate the zero-tolerance policy. 

23. Aaron White
Laborer
Incident: Oct. 24, 2012
Decision: April 23, 2014
Appeal: DENIED 

• Terminated for failing to transfer water service to a property he purchased and that, after the meter was disconnected for failure to pay the bill, he installed an illegal underground water connection. 
• An inspection in April 2013 found an illegal line hookup was installed to enable the residence to continue receiving water without paying. Made with brass fittings that were accessible to S&WB employees. 

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