Wesley accuses parish president of race/gender discrimination, retaliation in failed appeal

Wesley: There was a witch hunt for me because I was black.

Fired on September 12, Ascension’s former Human Resources Director Taleta Wesley’s appeal to the Parish Council failed on Thursday night when four members voted to overturn President Kenny Matassa’s decision.  Needing two-thirds of the 11-member body, that left Wesley four votes short.  On the job 13 months, Wesley went out swinging with accusations of discrimination and retaliation by Matassa.

It was an unsteady Taleta Wesley who argued procedure with Chairman Bill Dawson for what seemed like an eternity before settling in to fire a series of inflammatory accusations at her former boss.  “The parish president can’t seem to make up his mind” about the reasons for termination according to Wesley who wanted to confront Matassa at her post-firing HR Review Board hearing on October 9.

“Once again, derelict in his duties, (Matassa) was not present,” Wesley warmed to the task.

August 16, 2017: Matassa announces Wesley’s hire

According to Wesley a series of overtures seeking the reason for her termination were ignored by the president.  Addressing one of two “coaching” incidents in her employment file, Wesley said it stemmed from an attempt “to prevent the parish president from perjuring himself before the  parish council.”

Ascension Parish sued Wesley on November 9, seeking to enjoin her from disclosing several documents she is alleged to have copied early in the morning on the day of her firing.  The parish asserts those items (including Family Medical Leave Act documents, a working copy of the personnel manual being revised, and federally-mandated employee Citizen/Immigration paperwork) are parish property and privileged/confidential.  Wesley’s retained legal counsel was present at Thursday’s appeal hearing but only to observe.

The ultimate question for certain of the council members (why was Taleta Wesley fired?) was never explicitly answered by President Matassa, CAO Ken Dawson, or two parish attorneys.  Jeff Diez was the first to respond after Wesley’s 15 minute presentation, stressing that Ascension is an “at-will” employer and there need not be a reason provided for any employee’s firing.

“She just didn’t make the grade…The HR Department is in chaos with all the projects she started never completed,” Diez began.  “Our parish president decided she wasn’t working out.”

Diez pointed out that Wesley had never made the more inflammatory accusations about the reasons for termination, not even at the October 9 Review Board hearing.

  • Retaliation.

Wesley asserted that her firing was a retaliatory response to her pointing out “insurance and benefits fraud” and other illegality in the HR Department.  Federal immigration/citizenship documents (I-9s) for 80% of 1100 employees have never been filed.  (Wesley is including individuals outside the direct employ of Ascension Parish for whom HR handles paperwork.  According to multiple sources she is referencing Ascension Sheriff’s Office employees).

“The parish faces up to $800,000 in fines,” according to Wesley who warned that FEMA and other federal funding is in jeopardy.

Matassa claimed to have been unaware.  CAO Ken Dawson would explain that the administration is taking corrective action after Wesley brought this to his attention.  He denied that it had anything to do with her termination.

President Kenny Matassa (foreground) and CAO Ken Dawson (File photo)

Wesley also asserted that another HR employee “was giving away benefits” and the administration took no action after it was brought to Dawson’s attention.

  • Race/Gender discrimination.

As to other alleged fraud in Human Resources, involving insurance and benefits, Wesley claimed that Matassa “is protecting a white employee (but) fired a black employee” for similar conduct even though the latter had greater tenure.  She described a pattern of Matassa ignoring transgressions by white employees, firing black employees for similar wrongdoing.

“There was a witch hunt for me because I was black,” Wesley declared.

Asked to provide specific reasons for Wesley’s termination by Councilman Daniel “Doc” Satterlee, President Matassa hemmed and hawed, circling back to the Letter of Termination.  One could only wonder how he will fare under cross-examination if this matter is subject of a lawsuit.

Councilman Travis Turner, noting the abundance of lawyers present on Thursday, presented Louisiana’s Whistleblower Statute for council (and public) consumption.

Whistleblower statute shown by Councilman Turner

It led to a contentious exchange between Turner and Jeff Diez.  Diez argued it did not apply since Wesley never reported any wrongdoing to invoke whistleblower protections, particularly with regard to the Immigration/Citizenship paperwork which was only “an inter-office communication.”

“I’ve been in the case two months.  This is the first time I’m hearing any of this,” Diez termed Wesley’s claims “desperate measures.”

And not the reason she was fired.

“As Councilman Satterlee said, we don’t know why she was fired,” countered Turner.

Good enough for seven council members who sided with President Matassa.