Louisiana Firefighter Files For Whistleblower Protection

A St. Tammany Parish firefighter who accused his fire chief of misconduct and was then himself placed under investigation, has filed suit alleging whistleblower retaliation.

St. Tammany Parish Fire District 12 firefighter Thomas Williamson accused Fire Chief Stephen Krentel with stealing department air conditioning units and having an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate. The allegations were made shortly after Chief Krentel was cleared by St. Tammany Parish Sheriff’s Office of involvement with the death of his wife. The body of Nanette Krentel was found inside the couple’s burned home on July 14. She died of a gunshot wound.

Chief Krentel has admitted having an inappropriate relationship with a subordinate and remains under investigation by the fire district on Williamson’s allegations. However, in early January Williamson was notified he was under investigation for making slanderous comments against Chief Krentel and insubordination. He was suspended with pay on January 5.

Today, Williamson filed suit in 22nd Judicial District Court accusing the department of violating one of Louisiana’s whistleblower protection laws:

LA Rev Stat § 42:1169. Freedom from reprisal for disclosure of improper acts

A. Any public employee who reports to a person or entity of competent authority or jurisdiction information which he reasonably believes indicates a violation of any law or of any order, rule, or regulation issued in accordance with law or any other alleged acts of impropriety related to the scope or duties of public employment or public office within any branch of state government or any political subdivision shall be free from discipline, reprisal, or threats of discipline or reprisal by the public employer for reporting such acts of alleged impropriety. No employee with authority to hire, fire, or discipline employees, supervisor, agency head, nor any elected official shall subject to reprisal or threaten to subject to reprisal any such public employee because of the employee’s efforts to disclose such acts of alleged impropriety.

B.(1) If any public employee is suspended, demoted, dismissed, or threatened with such suspension, demotion, or dismissal as an act of reprisal for reporting an alleged act of impropriety in violation of this Section, such employee shall report such action to the board.

(2) An employee who is wrongfully suspended, demoted, or dismissed shall be entitled to reinstatement of his employment and entitled to receive any lost income and benefits for the period of any suspension, demotion, or dismissal.

Williamson is asking for a court order to remove the fire district investigators currently investigating him, and instead assign the task to a neutral party. He is also seeking monetary damages.

More on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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