NEW ORLEANS — A Belle Chasse naval firefighter is protesting his suspension for engaging in protected activities.

As reported by the Louisiana Record, Rene St. Pierre alleged in a suit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana on Dec. 6, 2016 that Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. St. Pierre alleges he was suspended because he was listed as a witness in an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) complaint and also filed his own EEOC complaint.

According to the report, St. Pierre believes that Mabus subjected him to “adverse disciplinary actions” as a punishment for his perceived willfulness against the department, despite the fact that St. Pierre was acting legally and carrying out his conscience. He is seeking a trial by jury to receive attorney’s fees and compensatory and punitive damages.

“His suit is probably justified," Andrew Feldman, a lawyer who has litigated for wrongful-termination suits, told the Louisiana Record. "A person who is filing a legal, substantiated complaint, cannot be punished for their actions. This happens more than it should, and usually (the employee) just goes with it. People need to be able to object, people need to have that freedom … when they feel like they’re being threatened, their job is being threatened. They can’t do that. It’s a fundamental problem people are trying to fix.”

Feldman believes that St. Pierre should have a strong case if his story is true.

“If he gets a trial by jury, and he can make it clear that what he was saying when he complained and when he testified wasn’t slanderous or unfair, than he should get the jury to side with him…," he said. "The timing doesn’t look very good… . (St. Pierre) getting suspended right after the testimony makes (Mabus) look like he’s retaliating. That’s the focus. If the plaintiff can prove retaliation, that’s pretty much it.”

The plaintiff will be represented in court by Margaret Hammond Jackson of Slidell. Her office could not be reached for comment.

Hammond-Jackson, on St. Pierre’s behalf, may run into problems if she cannot convince a jury that what the plaintiff was saying in his testimony about the naval firefighter’s office was true, Feldman said. If St. Pierre was lying or even stretching the truth, it could be problematic for his success. It is not unheard of for suits to get thrown out if protected speech was proven to be false.

Regardless of the strength of the offense, however, Mabus may have taken a huge risk when suspending St. Pierre, Feldman said. The damages from a successful verdict could be substantial.

“Sometimes, suits like these can result in millions of dollars being turned over,” Feldman said. “Juries tend to come down very harshly against people being suspended or terminated for free speech… . This country takes free speech very seriously, as it should, and people who violate that right have to pay the price.”

The Belle Chasse Naval Air Station Public Affairs office said they were not aware of a complaint and did not have a comment.

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