St. Tammany Parish Sheriff's office denied motion for summary judgment in ex-cop's age discrimination suit

By Shanice Harris | May 2, 2019

NEW ORLEANS – The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana recently denied the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Department’s motion for summary judgment in a lawsuit filed by a former police officer who says he was fired after experiencing on the the job age-related harassment and retaliation. 

In the April 17 ruling, District Judge Martin L. C. Feldman denied the parish's motion for summary judgment in the lawsuit filed by Mark Richard against the department in 2013 after he alleged he experienced "ageism." 

Richard graduated from the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office Police Academy program in August 2013 and soon found a job as a deputy in the criminal patrol division, court filings said.

In 2015, Richard, who was 49 at the time, alleges that a fellow officer, Deputy Patrick Penton, would make derogatory statements about Richard’s age. “Penton would call him an ‘old man,’ ask if he could ‘still get it up,’ and make other similar comments in front of their colleagues and in public,” according to court filings. Richard continuously asked him to stop and went to his superior, Corporal Tony Holloway, to complain. The taunting continued. 

Shortly after making the complaint, Richard said that his superiors, Lieutenant Wayne Wicker and Holloway, told him that his “ticket-writing privileges would be suspended until March 1, 2016,” according to court filings. “They informed Richard that they disagreed with the decision but that they were under orders from Chief Fred Oswald.”

In an incident later that year, Richard was conducting a stop with a civilian when he came in contact with a woman who he claims has a history of drug possession, court filings said. The woman said she nearly ran into Richard’s cop car because his lights weren’t on. He claimed they were. When Penton and Holloway arrived at the scene, they believed the woman, not Richard. Weeks later, Richard, who was on medical leave after an on-duty injury, was informed that he was being demoted and would be transferred to work as a dispatcher. 

Not long after the demotion to dispatcher, Richard complained to superiors about being uncomfortable with the sexually-explicit language in the mostly female workspace, court filings said. “Richard was called into Lieutenant (Brandy) Toups’s office with Sergeant (Amy) Poppler,” according to court documents.”Sergeant Poppler allegedly replied that they were not used to having men in the radio room and that she would talk with the others about his complaint.” 

In August 2016, Richard was terminate. The following year, he sued the St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Department.

“Sheriff Randy Smith moved to dismiss the complaint, contending that the sheriff’s department is not an entity capable of being sued,” according to court filings. They also claimed that the sexual and ageist conversations did not interfere with Richard’s performance at work. 

The court disagreed and denied the motion for summary judgment.

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