Former Lafayette City-Parish Councilman Chris Williams will have to return to the drawing board before his wages lawsuit against the
| Photo by Robin May
Lafayette Housing Authority can proceed, according to a Monday morning ruling by Judge Edward Broussard of the 15th Judicial District.
Williams’ lawsuit, filed against LHA in November 2011, stems from his time as a contracted case worker through the federal Disaster Housing Assistance Program.
In August 2010, Williams and several other case workers were terminated as a result of an internal audit conducted by LHA, which showed major discrepancies in the amount they were being paid and the amount of work being done. Questions raised by the independent audit — which eventually caught the eye of state and federal officials — centered on the lack of time sheets or travel receipts to substantiate that Williams and the other terminated workers were actually earning their bi-weekly checks, which included a $600 car allowance topped off with a full-time pay rate of $37/hour. Though LHA is fighting Williams’ claim, that was not the case for two of the ousted workers whose combined settlements totalled $40,000. Like Williams, they both cited a clause in their contract requiring the agency provide a 30-day notice before terminating their contract through DHAP.
For Williams though, even more suspicions are raised by his simultaneous “full-time” employment through the Special Services Department at UL Lafayette, which, coupled with his obligation to LHA and the feds, would have meant he was working in excess of 80 hours a week.
According to his original lawsuit, Williams claims his termination by LHA represents a breach of contract and therefore he is owed about $20,000 in back pay for himself and his nonprofit corporation, the Lafayette Training and Career Development Center, which he claims was actually the entity contracted through the federal program. Based on Monday’s court ruling, LTCDC does not have a valid claim.
Attorney Robert David, hired to represent LHA, said during Monday’s proceeding that based on Louisiana’s Wage and Payment Statute, a corporation has no right to file a claim for back wages.
“That statute only applies to an employee,” argues David.
Judge Broussard agreed. Though his ruling doesn’t mean the issue is over, Williams and his lawyers will now have to redraft the lawsuit.
“He has to amend his petition to clear up the procedural issues,” says David, who spoke with The IND following Monday’s ruling.
That means any mention of Williams’ corporation will have to be removed from the lawsuit, making it solely a personal claim. Then, the suit will have to be re-filed in district court.
Read more about Williams here.