Federal judge dismisses employment discrimination case against NAMI New Orleans

By Chandra Lye | Feb 25, 2018

NEW ORLEANS — A New Orleans-based nonprofit organization has had a small victory over claims of discrimination filed by a former employee.

Monica Sebble, an African American, filed a lawsuit on Oct. 10, claiming that NAMI New Orleans, a nonprofit that assists people with mental illnesses, violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law. 

In July 2016, she had started working for the defendant as an assistant daily living counselor.

However, U.S. District Judge Kurt D. Engelhardt of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana granted the defendant’s motion to dismiss the state claims.

In the lawsuit, Sabble claimed that she had filed several internal complaints against her supervisor, Nathanial Bossick. She alleged that the way that Bossick treated her and those whom NAMI worked was concerning. The lawsuit also claims that NAMI was unresponsive to her concerns.

“On September 27, 2016, she filed a formal complaint with the Louisiana Board of Social Workers regarding Mr. Bossick’s behavior,” Engelhardt wrote in the decision.

She claimed that after she filed the complaint, the company isolate her and refused to accommodate her with regards to a medical surgery.

Sebble noted that other non-African American employees were not treated the same. 

“On January 18, 2017, [the] plaintiff filed an EEOC charge, pro se, asserting that ‘NAMI discriminated against her because of her race and retaliated against her because of the complaints she raised,’” Engelhardt wrote in the decision.

She said the organization fired her on Feb. 7, 2017 because of the EEOC charge. 

“[The] plaintiff further alleges that ‘[t]he stated reasons for termination [in her written separation notice] were patently pretextual, and... a clear instance of unlawful retaliation in violation of both state and federal law,’” Engelhardt wrote in the decision. 

Sabble also noted in her lawsuit that five of the written reprimands were written the day she was fired. 

NAMI argued that the state charges should be dismissed because Louisiana employment discrimination law does not apply to nonprofits. 

“[The] plaintiff argues that NAMI’s motion should be denied because [the] plaintiff’s complaint states a valid claim for relief under Louisiana law: [the] plaintiff urges that based on a ‘strict reading’ of the relevant statutes, the exclusions are inapplicable and 'NAMI unquestionably qualifies as an ‘employer’ under Louisiana’s anti-retaliation statutes.’”

However, in making his decision, Engelhardt deliberated about whether NAMI fit the definition of employer under state law.

“Because La. Rev. Stat. § 23:302 includes a nonprofit corporation exemption, NAMI is not considered a covered employer under La. Rev. Stat. § 51:2256,” Engelhardt concluded. 

The judge then considered the question of whether the Louisiana whistleblower statute could apply.

“Accordingly, employment by nonprofit corporations does not fall within the scope of the Louisiana whistleblower statute,” he wrote in the decision. “... The court concludes that [the] plaintiff fails to set forth a plausible retaliation claim against NAMI under Louisiana law. Accordingly, [the] plaintiff’s state law retaliation claims are dismissed."

NAMI New Orleans originally began as a psychosocial program. It was incorporated by the Friends of the Psychologically Handicapped in 1978, according to its website.

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NAMI New Orleans U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

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