LAFAYETTE, La. (CN) – A longtime court employee claims an Opelousas City Court judge fired her because she posted an article about the nutritional value of brown and white sugar on a bulletin board – where workers often share recipes – and the judge said the article was racist.
Linda Mayeaux, who is white, worked at the City Court from 1994 until May 5 this year, when “she was terminated due to race,” according to her federal complaint.
She was an administrative assistant to, among others, defendant Judge Vanessa Harris. Mayeaux also sued the city of Opelousas.
Mayeaux says she had an exemplary record, and the judges, including Judge Harris, often complimented her for her work.
According to the complaint: “The employees engaged in a practice of posting news items, messages, recipes, etc., on the bulletin board if they thought that they would be of interest to their fellow employees. Based on this practice, plaintiff, on or about April 21, 2010, posted an article on the bulletin board, which was taken from the internet, comparing the nutritional value of brown and white sugar. The article, titled ‘Hello Sugar,’ provided:
“‘Brown sugar, white sugar – they’re both sucrose. The difference: Brown sugar has a small amount of molasses added for color and flavoring. But it has no nutritional advantages over its white counterpart.’ (Emphasis in original.)
“See http://www.personalbest.com/Health-Wellness/Hello-Sugar-Article.aspx [Editor’s note: This link was inoperative this morning.]
“No employee, to plaintiff’s knowledge, objected or took offense to the article.
“Suddenly and without warning, plaintiff, on May 5, 2010, was summoned to defendant’s, Judge Harris, office and questioned about the article. Defendant, Judge Harris, stated: ‘I heard you put this note on the board. What do you know about it? Why did you do it?’
“Plaintiff responded by stating that she ‘did it because it was a food article, about sugar, and the women oftentime exchanged recipes.’
“Much to Plaintiff’s shock and bewilderment, Defendant, Judge Harris, presented to her a letter, stating that she was being terminated for ‘posting a message within the workplace that conveys a negative racial connotation.'”
The termination letter Judge Harris handed her stated, inter alia: “I have received a report that you have admitted to posting a message within the workplace that conveys a negative racial connotation. As reflected in the Court’s manual, this type of behavior will not be condoned nor tolerated. This letter serves as notification that your employment with the Opelousas City Court is hereby terminated effective May 5, 2010.”
Mayeaux says Judge Harris “immediately used the vacancy created by plaintiff’s termination to employ another African American female.”
Mayeaux’s complaint adds that when Judge Harris was first elected, “One of her first official personnel actions was to fire Ronnie Leger, a Caucasian who had been employed with the City Court of Opelousas for 28 years. He was replaced by LaVonya Malveaux, an African American female.”
Mayeaux seeks punitive damages for constitutional violations. She is represented by Ronald Wilson of New Orleans.