Louisiana Record

Sunday, November 17, 2019

CORRECTION: Health Education Authority of Louisiana director claims attempts to fire him were racially motivated, sues state

By John Revak | Jun 22, 2017

Wrongful term 08

BATON ROUGE — A former director of the Health Education Authority of Louisiana has sued the state, claiming that attempts to terminate his employment occurred under racial pretense.

Jacob C. Johnson, who had been the executive director of HEAL since 2004, nearly lost his position when the quasi-state entity was abolished following an audit that accused him of misconduct. 

While numerous attempts to fire Johnson were made, all were unsuccessful.

There was a laundry list of violations, including accusations of “malfeasance, misgovernment, illegal activities and misappropriation of funds,” according to the complaint.

However, Johnson claims the audit was a façade used to mask a more sinister motive to keep African Americans out of positions of power.

Johnson specifically cites an interaction with an employee of the auditor’s office, who claimed that Johnson was not being audited for “legitimate reasons,” and that it was being “conducted to secure [the] petitioner’s termination and because [the] petitioner is African-American,” according to the Louisiana Weekly.

This same employee also drew parallels between Johnson’s treatment and Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson, the Louisiana Weekly reported. Justice Johnson was an African-American judge whose peers allegedly tried to keep from ascending to chief justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court because of her race.

Furthermore, Jacob C. Johnson claims that he was subject to frequent disparaging comments from Jeff Reynolds, the undersecretary of the Louisiana Department of Health. These comments allegedly included remarks about his race and “questioning and/or if [the] petitioner was ‘qualified’ for his job,” according to the Louisiana Weekly.

The auditor’s office believes that Jacob C. Johnson claims are unfounded and meant to divert attention away from his misconduct.

“We obviously don’t think those allegations will hold true,” Jenifer Schaye, counsel for the auditor’s office, told the Louisiana Record. “The defense for defamation is truth.”

The case is expected to proceed with an exceptions hearing scheduled for next month, Schaye said.

Johnson is being represented by Baton Rouge attorney Jill Craft, who could not be reached for comment.

Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Jacob Johnson was terminated from his position as the executive director of the Health Education Authority of Louisiana. This has been corrected. The Record regrets the error.

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Louisiana Supreme CourtState of LouisianaHealth Education Authority of Louisiana