Precinct Four employee claims to have lost job after reporting wrongdoing

Kelly Holleran Jan. 21, 2013, 2:42pm

A Jefferson County woman claims she lost her county job after she attempted to report the wrongdoings of her supervisors. 

Sonya Briscoe claims she was in charge of ordering fuel for Precinct Four of Jefferson County.

In an effort to eliminate Briscoe from her position, her bosses attempted to show their superiors that copious amount of fuel were missing. According to the complaint filed Jan. 15 in Jefferson County District Court, Briscoe was blamed for failing to order fuel in a timely manner.

In 2007, Briscoe alleges that Precinct Four leaders asked her to falsify fuel records, but she refused to do so. In past years, they had also refused to allow county auditors to see Precinct Four’s accounts and had falsified maintenance workers’ payroll records, the lawsuit alleges.

When Precinct Four Commissioner Bo Alfred reprimanded Briscoe for her failure to order fuel, she wrote a rebuttal, including the leaders’ alleged missteps in her correspondence, according to the suit.

After receiving the letter, Alfred and another Precinct Four employee, identified as Watkins, conducted a follow-up meeting with Briscoe on April 6, 2009. During the meeting, Alfred continued to reprimand Briscoe and told her that “she brought up fuel discrepancies to avoid taking responsibility for ordering fuel,” the complaint says.

“Watkins told Briscoe she should have followed instructions and not questioned their accounting or opposition to an outside audit. Watkins accused Briscoe of leaking information to the County auditing department. Briscoe denied it,” according to the complaint.

At the end of the meeting, Alfred threatened Brisoe, she claims.

He told her, “When I start to feel like someone is trying to back me in a corner or I feel threatened that’s when I go for the throat – and when I go for the throat, I’ll just cut out your jugular and not even think about it,” the suit alleges.

Briscoe claims she became very afraid, and worried that Alfred and Watkins would destroy her character by denying and refuting everything she had written in her rebuttal letter, according to the complaint.

In an attempt to protect herself, Briscoe placed her rebuttal in her personnel file and also reported Alfred’s alleged misconduct to First Assistant District Attorney, Tom Rugg, the suit states.

On May 1, 2009, Briscoe was again called to another meeting with Alfred and four others. During this meeting, Alfred allegedly told Briscoe she was being placed on paid leave pending an investigation.

The precinct had decided to investigate the subsidized repair of a hurricane-damaged home owned by Briscoe’s landlord, John Cooper, the complaint says. Alfred accused Briscoe of acting unethically by providing her landlord with city money to fix her dwelling.

However, Briscoe contends she had done nothing illegal, but only provided Cooper with assistance in receiving federal funds given to area property owners following Hurricane Rita, according to the suit.

“Briscoe told Alfred that she had notarized lots of fund applications as part of her job in his office, and that she received no outside personal benefit for having notarized his application for the grant,” the suit states. “Briscoe realized and perceived that Alfred was trying to intimidate her and make her fearful to silence her, but she challenged what evidence he had that she had done anything wrong, and denied doing anything wrong.”

Following the meeting, Briscoe became ill and had to go to the hospital, according to the complaint. Because of her hospital stay, Briscoe missed a May 5, 2009, meeting, during which she was terminated from her job, the suit states.

In her complaint, Briscoe alleges the defendants retaliated against her after she utilized her First Amendment right to free speech. She is seeking declaratory relief, plus mandatory injunctive relief that would order the defendants to rehire Briscoe, along with benefits related to her job.

Larry Watts of Watts and Associates in Missouri City will be representing Briscoe.

The case has been assigned to Judge Bob Wortham, 58th District Court.

Case No. A193-820

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