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Ortega v. The Recreation and Parks Commission

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

July 18, 2018

DON ORTEGA
v.
THE RECREATION AND PARKS COMMISSION FOR THE PARISH OF EAST BATON ROUGE AND SUPERINTENDENT CAROLYN MCKNIGHT

          On Appeal from the Nineteenth Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of East Baton Rouge State of Louisiana No. C649625, Sec. 23 The Honorable William A. Morvant, Judge Presiding

          Yigal Bander Attorney for Plaintiff/Appellant Don Ortega

          Sunny Mayhall West Murphy J. Foster, III Jacob E. Roussel Attorneys for Defendants/Appellees The Recreation and Parks Commission for the Parish of East Baton Rouge and Superintendent Carolyn McKnight

          BEFORE:. HIGGINBOTHAM, HOLDRIDGE, AND PENZATO, JJ.

          HOLDRIDGE, J.

         Plaintiff/appellant, Don Ortega appeals a trial court judgment denying his petition for injunction and writ of mandamus against defendants/appellees, The Recreation and Parks Commission for the Parish of East Baton Rouge[1] (BREC) and Superintendent Carolyn McKnight, chief executive officer of BREC, for restricting him from attending BREC meetings held on its properties due to his threatening and disruptive conduct following his termination of employment.[2] For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Ortega was terminated from his employment with BREC on December 31, 2015, due to his improper behavior with employees and insubordination towards his supervisors. As a result of his termination, Ortega made threatening remarks to BREC supervisors and employees on BREC's premises. Ortega struck a BREC employee with his uniform shirt and told another BREC employee that he was "going to have fun with [them]. [They didn't] even know." Following his termination, BREC had to contact the Baton Rouge Police Department twice due to Ortega's hostile and threatening behavior on its premises.

         On January 14, 2016, BREC sent Ortega a letter instructing him that because of his threatening behavior after his termination, he was banned from entering all BREC properties and facilities indefinitely. Ortega appealed his termination to the BREC Peer Review Committee and the BREC Human Resources Complaint Resolution Committee. Both committees upheld his termination.

         On March 31, 2016, McKnight sent Ortega a letter notifying him that "in accordance with BREC's letter [dated] ... January 14, 2016 ... [his] ban from entering all BREC properties and facilitates indefinitely [was] ... reinstated and effective immediately. The letter further stated that "[a]ny violation of [the] ban [would] result in [BREC's] immediate contact of the police and [Ortega would] be subject to arrest for trespassing[.]"

         On July 5, 2016, Ortega filed a "Petition for Injunction And For Writ of Mandamus" naming BREC and McKnight as defendants. In his petition, Ortega requested that the trial court issue a preliminary injunction ordering BREC to remove its restriction prohibiting him from attending and participating in public meetings held on BREC's properties and asked that after due proceedings, the injunction be made permanent. Ortega further requested that a writ of mandamus be issued that directed McKnight to allow him to attend and express his views at BREC's public meetings. In response, the defendants filed an opposition to Ortega's petition, listing in detail his history of disruptive incidents. The opposition stated that in November 2013, Ortega was arrested and charged with unauthorized entry into a business and criminal trespass after violently entering the business to make a complaint. On September 30, 2014, the Baton Rouge Police Department was contacted regarding Ortega's suspicious behavior when he was observed to be allegedly taking pictures of children walking around a church synagogue property. When Ortega was questioned about his behavior by the reporter of the incident he became irritated.

         Additionally, the defendants attached exhibits detailing the reasons for Ortega's discharge from BREC, which stated that he exhibited improper behavior with fellow employees as well as creating a hostile and unsafe work environment. An employee of BREC submitted an incident report about Ortega, stating "in my 25 years as a BREC employee I have never seen a person who was so cold and ruthless toward fellow employees as Don Ortega was. His attitude ... toward his fellow employees ma[de] it impossible to work in this or any other organization."

         On July 5, 2017, the parties submitted a joint stipulation of facts and exhibits. The stipulation of facts revealed that Ortega had been arrested in Colorado for damaging public property and had a history of carrying firearms into public meetings in Colorado. The stipulation of facts further revealed that on September 20, 2016, Ortega underwent a psychological evaluation administered by an independent medical examiner, Dr. Brandon P. Romano, a clinical psychologist. The results of the psychological evaluation were as follows:

Mr. Ortega's truthfulness scale score [was] in the problem risk range and all scale scores [were] ...

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