Justin DeWitt, an openly-gay, blue-collar worker in Louisiana decided in December 2017 that he would run for Louisiana’s 6th Congressional District. DeWitt knew he was facing an uphill battle in the predominantly red district that features an R+19 Republican advantage but none-the-less he faced off with Republican Garret Graves. Shortly after the November 6 election ended DeWitt conceded his loss and prepared to return to work.
Justin, despite running his campaign, only took eight approved vacation days off from work, ensuring his campaign wouldn’t interfere with his day-to-day activities on the job as a surveyor for SJB Group, a company he has worked for since 2014.
Justin told Hill Reporter that shortly after he announced his run in December 2017, his former boss, Wilfred Barry, called him into the office and said several employees had complained about Justin talking politics. “I understood and ceased talking about it,” Justin says.
No further complaints were filed against Justin and he continued his work with the company.
“October 26th I began my time off (vacation days) for the election. I took off 8 days. Thursday was to be my first day back. On Thursday morning I received a call from my employer. He claimed they were “downsizing” and I was to be let go. I was the longest employed survey crew foreman at the company,” Justin told us.
Oddly, during the phone call in which his former employer terminated DeWitt, they apologized for waiting so long to call. His boss said they were late calling because they had several employees who were “no call, no shows.”
“I am a surveyor. When it rains, we have no call no shows. It rained hard that day, so I got in contact with my coworkers and the company to see if we were rained out. I got no answer or response, and then they called me.”
DeWitt’s employer told him that they were downsizing the company, however, he was the only person terminated despite other employees having no call, no show records. Justin also told us, “In July my employer gave me a raise for good performance. I also got a performance bonus in October.”
I asked Justin about his own no call, no show history and he said during his employment with SJB Group he didn’t have a single instance of no call, no show.
When Hill Reporter attempted to check SJB Group’s Facebook page we found it was no longer operating.
“It seems to have been taken down the day after I posted on FB about my termination,” Justin said about the company’s Facebook page.
When a local news affiliate asked about DeWitt’s termination, Mr. Barry said they would not discuss the reasons he was fired because of employment laws regarding confidentiality.
Sadly, Justin admits that he has “little recourse because Louisiana is an at-will state.”
I asked Justin what he believed may have played a factor in his former employer’s decision to terminate him after glowing job performance reviews, raises, and four years of solid performance.
Justin said he doesn’t believe it has anything to do with being the first LGBTQ person to seeking federal office in Louisiana. “I’ve never experienced any pushback from my company or coworkers for my sexuality in my 4 years at SJB. I have been out since I was a teenager. I was hired with them knowing I was gay and it was never an issue. During my run for Congress, the community here in Louisiana was surprisingly supportive. I do not think my termination was due to my sexuality.”
Instead, Justin believes the company may have seen him as a liability for a very different political reason. “My opponent, Garret Graves, claims responsibility for tons of federal money for DOTD projects in Louisiana. I believe they may have seen me as a liability when they bid on future DOTD projects.”
“[Graves] used to run the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority here in LA. He was appointed by Bobby Jindal, a good friend and recipient of campaign contributions from his father. When Graves ran the CPRA he gave MANY contracts for projects to his father’s engineering firm,” DeWitt says.
“This year, Graves ran on his achievements securing federal funding for infrastructure projects in our district, mostly highway money. My former employer is one of the biggest recipients for DOTD projects in the state of Louisiana (emphasis our). In the near future, they will bid on many projects Graves has claimed he secured funding for. Can’t help but to feel that’s suspicious.
Because DeWitt’s employer will not openly discuss the reason for his termination, we may never know the true reason for terminating an employee who was just given a pay raise for excellent performance.
What's Your Reaction?
James Kosur is the former Editor-In-Chief and co-founder of Hill Reporter. He recently served as an editor for Business Insider and various other publications. James and his partners sold Hill Reporter to a new owner in July 2019.