The Port Arthur News
Former Jefferson County employee Penny Nguyen was awarded $400,000 in lost wages and compensation for pain and suffering in her lawsuit against the county.
Nguyen worked for former Precinct 8 Justice of the Peace Thurman Bartie, who was removed from his office due to accusations of wrongdoing. Nguyen testified against her employer.
Bartie’s friend and political ally Tom Gillam ran for his bench. Nguyen claimed that once elected, Gillam retaliated against her out of anger.
“He made her work conditions unbearable — slamming doors, not talking to her, questioning her every move,” said attorney Ike Okorafor of the Missouri City-based law firm Watts & Associates. “She eventually was forced to transfer under threat of termination. She had some physical ailments that manifested.”
Nguyen eventually went to work for Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Vi McGinnis. After he retired, Nguyen was terminated by his replacement, Nancy Beaulieu, before she even took office.
“The county perceived Penny Nguyen as a threat,” Okorafor said. “They were trying to figure out a way to get her out without costing the county more money.”
Nguyen's attorney Larry Watts, also of Watt & Associates, was pleased with the outcome of the case.
“What this case means is that the First Amendment is alive and well before juries in Jefferson County,” he said. “What we shouldn't do is allow elected officials who are trying to protect their power to punish people who have the courage to stand up and be counted — even if they work for the county.”