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Bryant v. Texas Department of Aging & Disability Servs.

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

March 25, 2015

TAMMY BRYANT, Plaintiff - Appellee

Page 765

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.



Page 766


Tammy Bryant filed suit against her employer, the Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services (" Department" ), and supervisor, Kim Littleton, in her individual capacity, claiming violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act (" FMLA" ). The defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on the bases of sovereign and qualified immunity. The district court denied the motion in full. We conclude that the Department is entitled to sovereign immunity on Bryant's self-care claims and that Littleton is entitled to qualified immunity on Bryant's interference claims. We REVERSE and REMAND.


Tammy Bryant was hired by the Department in May 2008 to serve as an Assistant Residence Director at the Brenham State Supported Living Center. The Brenham Center is home to several hundred individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Bryant was initially assigned to the facility's Driscoll Gardens Unit, but was reassigned to the Childress Terrace Unit in January 2009. Bryant was promoted to the unit's Residence Director position in September 2010, at which time she assumed primary responsibility for the Childress unit. Littleton also became the Brenham Center's Assistant Director of Programs and, as such, Bryant's immediate supervisor.

This case involves two separate leave periods taken under the FMLA. Bryant first took leave, starting on October 5, 2010, under the FMLA's family-care provision to care for her husband, who had undergone surgery. Bryant alleges that during her time off, Littleton called her between three and ten times to discuss work-related matters. She was unable to recall the specifics of these calls, except that they once discussed whom to hire for the Assistant Residence Director position. Bryant estimates that each of the calls lasted between five and thirty minutes.

Bryant returned to work on November 15, approximately six weeks later. She asserts that she had never previously received any negative reviews, reprimands,

Page 767

or counseling regarding her work performance. But after she returned, Littleton allegedly began retaliating against her for taking leave by issuing various negative reviews and reprimands.

On December 31, Littleton issued Bryant a written " First-Level Reminder," identifying two separate incidents of concern. First, Bryant failed to follow Littleton's instruction to have a resident's wheelchair immediately repaired. Second, Bryant sent an e-mail directly to other departments without first receiving Littleton's approval. That same day, Littleton reassigned Bryant to serve as the Driscoll Residence Director. The move was explained as an opportunity for Bryant to gain knowledge about being a Residence Director at a " fairly sound unit" with which she was already familiar.

Soon thereafter, Bryant informed Littleton that she had high blood pressure and had suffered a mini-stroke. According to Bryant, those conditions required her to miss multiple days of work between December and February. Bryant asserts that, despite knowing the cause of her absences, Littleton issued her a counseling letter on February 18 based, in part, on her attendance. The letter also included concerns about Bryant's practice of logging overtime hours without prior approval.

Sometime in February, Bryant started suffering from severe depression and panic attacks. According to Bryant, her doctor, Dr. Drell, recommended that she take two months off from work. When Bryant reviewed the FMLA paperwork that Dr. Drell completed, she believed he had mistakenly noted that she would only be off for one month. Because Dr. Drell had told her that she would actually need to be off for two months, Bryant altered the return date on the FMLA paperwork to read " 6/28/2011" instead of " 5/28/2011" before giving it to Littleton.

Littleton submitted the paperwork to the Time, Labor, and Leave staff. The staff requested that Littleton discuss the altered date with Bryant. At some point, Dr. Drell faxed the original paperwork, which showed a return date of May 28. Robert Ham, Littleton's supervisor, referred the case to the Texas Health and Human Service (" HHS" ) Commission's Office of the Inspector General (" OIG" ) for further review. The OIG then instructed Littleton to contact Bryant to schedule an interview. Littleton called Bryant and asked her to come to work for a meeting regarding an " investigation." She did not disclose any details about the meeting. Bryant refused. As a result, an OIG investigator went to Bryant's house that same day, but Bryant refused to answer any questions. The OIG eventually determined that the evidence could support a case of criminal forgery against Bryant and referred the matter to ...

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