Thymes gets her parish job back

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 18, 1999

By LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / January 18, 1999

LAPLACE – Louisiana state law came to the rescue of St. John the BaptistParish Planning and Zoning Director Laurette Thymes Tuesday night.

Thymes, 38, was fired Dec. 29 for not conforming to the parishgovernment’s drug testing ordinance, but during an executive session with parish attorneys, Charles Lorio and Barry Landry, parish councilmen determined the ordinance was misapplied and Thymes won her job back.

“I’m shocked, actually,” Thymes responded to the news. She attended themeeting with her attorney, Larry Samuel of Rittenberg and Samuel in New Orleans. However, her attorney’s comments weren’t necessary and Thymeswas not invited into the closed-door meeting.

“Disaster!” commented council chairman Duaine Duffy.

Parish Councilman Joel McTopy pointed out to the Parish Council Louisiana Revised Statute 49:1101 which says, in part, that such random drug testing is to be applied to “safety-sensitive” or “security-sensitive” job positions. Neither description applies to Thymes’ administrative positionas planning and zoning director.

Parish President Arnold Labat had no comment on the decision by the Parish Council to adhere to state law. At the point in the public meeting totake up the issue, he addressed the council briefly, stating only he was withdrawing his request for the council’s confirmation of the dismissal.

McTopy observed: “I’ve learned a lot, and the parish will be a lot better for it.”Thymes was dismissed eight days after she refused to be tested by the parish’s drug screening contractor on Dec. 21 in a random drug screening.Instead, she went to U.S. Biochem Medical Laboratory in Metairie andarranged submission of those results.

On July 6, Thymes submitted to a drug screening by the parish contractor and alleged she was “grossly humiliated” by the experience. Originally,she was scheduled for July 5 but she said she asked for and received a one-day postponement because of her heavy work schedule.

Nevertheless, she added, she received a memo of disapproval for not being tested on July 5.

According to the parish ordinance which established the drug-screening procedure in October 1994, parish employees must submit their samples to the company hired by the Parish Council. All samples are to be sealedand marked for identification in the presence of the person submitting the sample, and results are confidential. Refusal to submit to random testingor testing for cause is grounds for dismissal.

However, if a positive reading for drug use is detected, dismissal is not an immediate option. Rather, substance abuse counseling is mandated, at theemployee’s cost. Failure to follow the recommendations of the counselor,though, would result in dismissal.

Thymes was hired in August 1997. With her college degree in urbanplanning, she felt she was eminently qualified to administrate the parish’s comprehensive zoning ordinance approved more than 10 years ago.

However, as time went on, Thymes said her support within parish government has eroded, and her battles to properly enforce parish zoning laws generated animosity and made headlines.

She commented after Wednesday’s decision: “I guess this means I’m going back to work in the morning. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do.”

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