Veteran ATC employee files wrongful termination lawsuit against ATC Commissioner

Veteran ATC employee files wrongful termination lawsuit against ATC Commissioner
ATC Commissioner Troy Hebert (Source: WAFB)
ATC Commissioner Troy Hebert (Source: WAFB)

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - A lawsuit alleging retaliation, wrongful termination and defamation by unlawful public disclosure of private information has been filed against state Alcohol and Tobacco Control Commissioner Troy Hebert.

The suit was filed by Brette Tingle, a longtime ATC enforcement agent supervisor terminated earlier this year by Hebert while he was on leave recovering from a heart attack, according to Tingle's lawyers.

In a news release from Tingle's lawyers on Wednesday, it states Hebert's office issued a statewide news release in August to discredit Mr. Tingle, including the letter of discipline, that detailed the alleged complaints against him.

"It is appalling that Mr. Tingle was harassed and terminated after many years of dedicated service," said Mr. Tingle's attorney, J. Arthur Smith, III of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. "Even more appalling is the manner in which Commissioner Hebert further defamed and humiliated Mr. Tingle by issuing a news release about the termination."

In the news release from Hebert in August, Tingle was fired after learning of threatening, racial, and sexual text messages found on a state-issued cell phone and falsification of payroll documents, stemming from GPS reports on his state vehicle.

"We will show that Commissioner Hebert systematically retaliated against Mr. Tingle over a period of time," Mr. Smith said.  "Mr. Tingle stood up for what he believed was right and did not allow Hebert to bully and intimidate him into wrongful behavior. For his courage and perseverance Mr. Tingle paid the ultimate price." Hebert began to harass Mr. Tingle in retaliation for Tingle's support of three African-American ATC agents that Hebert also harassed, Mr. Smith said. Mr. Tingle provided evidence in support of the black agents when they filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against Hebert. Mr. Tingle is white.

According to the lawsuit, for approximately 18 years, Mr. Tingle, the plaintiff, was a dedicated, career law enforcement professional who was promoted up through the ranks.  Around June 28, 2012, ATC Commissioner Troy Hebert approved Mr. Tingle's annual performance evaluation, in which he received the highest rank of all ATC agents, with an outstanding performance rating.

On October 3, 2012, counsel for Mr. Tingle hand-delivered courtesy copies of the three EEOC charges (by African-American ATC supervisors alleging harassment and discrimination by Commissioner Hebert) to Gov. Bobby Jindal; Tim Barfield, Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Revenue, and Jessica Starnes, ATC's staff attorney. Mr. Tingle participated as a witness in the EEOC charges filed against Commissioner Hebert, subsequently also filed in federal court, both alleging systematic racial discrimination by Hebert, in an effort to eliminate African-American employees from supervisory positions within the ATC.

The very next day, Oct. 4, 2012, Troy Hebert initiated a relentless campaign of retaliation against Mr. Tingle. On July 14, 2014, the three African-American supervisors filed their complaint in U.S. District Court, referencing Mr. Tingle as a witness. On February 15, 2015, Mr. Tingle received a hand-delivered letter of termination from Hebert, falsely accusing him of public payroll fraud, despite Mr. Tingle's exoneration of the charge after an extensive, year-long investigation by the state Inspector General's office.

According to Tingle's attorneys, the IG investigation found no probable cause for Hebert's accusation of payroll fraud against Mr. Tingle.

Mr. Smith said, "We intend to clear Mr. Tingle's good name and reinstate his career and the benefits that accrue from many years of public service.  Troy Hebert's actions regarding Mr. Tingle have been unlawful, egregious, mean-spirited and frankly, spiteful.  As if the wrongful termination while Mr. Tingle was at home convalescing from a serious heart attack was not damaging and hurtful enough, Commissioner Hebert issued the news release months after the dismissal for the sole purpose of inflicting further harm."

In response to the lawsuit and the news release from Tingle's attorney, Troy Hebert released the following statement:

"Mr. Tingle claims to be a poor victim and that I am picking on him, but the real victim is the taxpayers. GPS devices do not pick on people.  His GPS state vehicle reports showed that he was home while he claimed he was working and getting paid.

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