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Hunter v. Rapides Parish Coliseum Auth.

Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Third Circuit

February 4, 2015

TERRI HUNTER
v.
RAPIDES PARISH COLISEUM AUTHORITY

APPEAL FROM THE NINTH JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT, PARISH OF RAPIDES, NO. 247,937. HONORABLE GEORGE C. METOYER, JR., DISTRICT JUDGE.

Daniel E. Broussard, Jr., Broussard, Halcomb & Vizzier, Alexandria, LA, COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT-APPELLEE: Rapides Parish Coliseum Authority.

G. Andrew Veazey, Bradford H. Felder, Stefini W. Salles, Huval, Veazey, Felder & Renegar, LLC, Lafayette, LA, COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT: Terri Hunter.

Court composed of John D. Saunders, Elizabeth A. Pickett, and John E. Conery, Judges.

OPINION

Page 174

[14-784 La.App. 3 Cir. 1] PICKETT, Judge.

Terri Hunter sued the Rapides Parish Coliseum Authority (Authority) after the Authority terminated her employment. Ms. Hunter asserted a number of claims against the Authority, including a whistleblower claim pursuant to La.R.S. 23:967. The Authority filed a motion for summary judgment, alleging that Ms. Hunter's whistleblower claim should be dismissed because the Authority is not an employer for purposes of the whistleblower statute. Ms. Hunter appealed. For the following reasons, we reverse the dismissal of Ms. Hunter's whistleblower claim and remand the matter to the trial court for further proceedings.

FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Ms. Hunter was hired by the Authority on February 21, 2013, as an office manager. During her employment, Ms. Hunter was asked and/or instructed by her superiors to perform a number of payroll and financial tasks that she believed were improper. She also discovered numerous discrepancies with payroll and other financial documentation that was prepared before she was employed by the Authority. Ms. Hunter reported the discrepancies to the Authority's independent auditor and to Murphy Rachal, Chairman of the Authority, and Jimbo Thiels, the Vice-Chairman of the Authority, during her employment. Neither Mr. Rachal nor Mr. Thiels took action on Ms. Hunter's report, and she reported the discrepancies to the Rapides Parish District Attorney. A criminal investigation was instituted by the Rapides Parish District Attorney as a result of Ms. Hunter's reports regarding the Authority's financial improprieties. On May 20, 2013, the Authority terminated Ms. Hunter's employment.

Ms. Hunter filed this suit seeking relief under the whistleblower statute. She alleged that her employment was terminated because she refused to engage in [14-784 La.App. 3 Cir. 2] financial improprieties at the direction of Mr. Rachal and/or Mr. Theil and because she reported the financial improprieties to the appropriate officials. Ms. Hunter also sought a writ of mandamus, directing the Authority to provide her a pre-disciplinary hearing and a written notice of reprimand prior to taking any disciplinary action against her, and asserted a quo warranto claim.

The Authority filed a Motion for Summary Judgment to dismiss Ms. Hunter's whistleblower claim on the ground that it does not meet the definition of employer applicable to the Louisiana whistleblower statute, La.R.S. 23:967. The basis of the motion is that the definition of employer set forth in La.R.S. 23:302(2) of the Louisiana Employment Discrimination Law (LEDL), La.R.S. 23:301-369, applies to whistleblower claims. After a hearing held on March 31, 2014, the trial court

Page 175

granted the Authority's motion for summary judgment and dismissed the remainder of Ms. Hunter's claims.

Pursuant to La.Code Civ.P. art. 1917, Ms. Hunter requested that the trial court issue written reasons for its ruling on the motion for summary judgment. The trial court then issued Findings of the Court and Reasons for Judgment, in which it concluded that the Authority's basis for its motion for summary judgment was not valid. The trial court determined, however, that Ms. Hunter was a probationary employee and not entitled to whistleblower protection under La.R.S. 23:967.

Ms. Hunter appealed the judgment granting summary judgment in ...


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