Appeals court reverses summary judgment for levee contractor in racial discrimination case

By Sam Knef | Apr 8, 2017

NEW ORLEANS — The Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal has reversed a lower court's summary judgment finding in a racial discrimination case involving a levee work project in Algiers and remanded it for further proceedings.

Plaintiffs Brian Balthazar and others had sought review of an Orleans Parish July 2016 judgment granting Hensley R. Lee Contracting and Tom Hayden (HRL) partial summary judgment and dismissing with prejudice "all claims of racial discrimination, hostile work environment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and all other claims based on racial animus, including those that fall under the Louisiana Unfair Trade Practices Act."

The majority in the panel composed of Chief Judge James McKay III and Judges Terri Love, Daniel Dysart, Rosemary Ledet and Sandra Cabrina Jenkins found the motions for partial summary judgment did not address plaintiffs‘ claims as pled in their petition.

"Based on the circumstantial evidence presented and the need for additional discovery, we also find that genuine issues of material fact exist," the Fourth Circuit ruled on March 15.

Jenkins and Dysart dissented.

Among other things, plaintiffs in a consolidated group of claims alleged that the defendants—HRL, which was subcontractor to main contractor Southern Services & Equipment (SSE)—racially harassed them, created a hostile work environment, prevented them from performing their work and questioned their abilities and work performance.

The plaintiffs were employed by Titan Maintenance and Construction, which had been subcontracted for the Algiers project by HRL. Plaintiffs further alleged that defendants lacked Titan's levee-building experience.

They claimed that during the month in which Titan was used for the project, the defendants procured "Titan‘s trade practices and plans as well as (learned) the levee building skills needed to complete the project," the ruling states.  

It further states that the plaintiffs claimed the defendants' actions "were intended to drive Titan off the project. Without Titan, the proceeds from the levee project would be split between SSE and HRL, thereby increasing their individual profit shares. In fact, after the project was completed, the Army Corps of Engineers issued all payments on the contract owed to SSE, who in turn paid HRL. Titan, on the other hand, never received payment for its work."

The Fourth Circuit held that given the "unresponsive" nature of HRL's motion for partial summary judgment, direct and circumstantial evidence and a need for more discovery, genuine issues of material fact existed.

"Therefore, we find the trial court erred in granting HRL‘s motion for partial summary judgment," the ruling states. "Accordingly, Plaintiffs‘ writ application is granted; the trial court‘s July 19, 2016 judgment granting HRL partial summary judgment is reversed; and the case is remanded for further proceedings in line with this Court‘s disposition."

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Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

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