Former St. John Parish deputy’s race discrimination case denied

Published 12:13 am Saturday, January 19, 2019

NEW ORLEANS — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit recently upheld a decision by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana to dismiss a race discrimination and retaliation lawsuit filed by a former deputy in St. John the Baptist Parish against the parish’s sheriff.

The appeals court issued its opinion Jan. 10 in the case in which the former deputy, Travis Thomas, an African-American, appealed the district court decision that granted Sheriff Michael Tregre’s motion for summary judgment.

In the incident leading to the lawsuit, Thomas was an officer in the narcotics division when he was involved in an operation that resulted in an arrest. Thomas told Major Walter Chappel, head of the narcotics division, that he saw other officers hit the suspect and use extreme force against him, court filings said.

While the officers denied it, the internal affairs division opened an investigation and Chappel backed the other officer’s testimony, court filings said.

The officers all took lie detector tests and the results said one officer was telling the truth, one was lying, and the results regarding Thomas were inconclusive, so there wasn’t any action taken against any of the officers.

A year later, the district attorney’s office informed Tregre that lawyers were looking to exclude the polygraph results from the investigation into the suspect who was arrested.

Tregre transferred Thomas to the correctional department and Thomas resigned instead of accepting the transfer.

The suspect then sued the officers for excessive force, and a jury found that the officers weren’t responsible. One of the officers who was transferred was returned to his position and received back pay. Thomas responded by filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, saying he asked Tregre to be re-hired in person.

Thomas then filed a lawsuit against Tregre in the district court, and both he and Tregre moved for summary judgment.

Tregre’s motion was granted; Thomas’ motion was denied and he appealed.

The appeals court said Thomas failed to satisfy a required prong in his lawsuit by proving he was replaced by someone outside of the protected group or that he was treated less favorably than those in similar situations outside of the protected group.

The court pointed out that the internal investigation backed an officer who passed a lie detector test and recommended Thomas be reprimanded or terminated since his credibility couldn’t be taken seriously.

Considering this, Thomas also hasn’t proven or mentioned that he was replaced by someone outside of the protected class (i.e. of a different race).

While Thomas said Tregre retaliated against him when he wouldn’t re-hire him after his EEOC complaint, the appeals court said Thomas failed to properly state that claim and hasn’t raised an issue of an adverse action taken against him.

— By Charmaine Little. This story was originally published Jan. 15 by Louisiana Record. It has been republished here with the permission of Louisiana Record.