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Williams v. Louisiana Department of Health

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

December 21, 2017

TIERRA WILLIAMS
v.
LOUISIANA DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH, OFFICE OF CITIZENS WITH DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITIES, PINECREST SUPPORTS AND SERVICES CENTER

         On Appeal from The State Civil Service Commission, Docket No. S-l 8194 D. Scott Hughes, Vice-Chairman; G. Lee Griffin, Member; C. Pete Fremin, Member; and Ronald M. Carrere, Member Byron P. Decoteau Jr., Director, Department of State Civil Service

          Daniel E. Broussard Jr. Alexandria, Louisiana Attorney for Plaintiff/ Appellant, Tierra Williams

          Neal R. Elliott Jr. Baton Rouge, Louisiana Attorney for Defendant/ Appellant, Louisiana Department of Health, OCDD, Pinecrest Supports and Services Center

          Adrienne Bordelon Baton Rouge, Louisiana Attorney for Defendant/ Appellee, Byron P. Decoteau Jr., Director, Department of State Civil Service

          BEFORE: GUIDRY, PETTIGREW, AND CRAIN, JJ.

          CRAIN, J.

         Tierra Williams appeals a decision of the Louisiana Civil Service Commission upholding the termination of her employment. We affirm.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Williams was employed by the Louisiana Department of Health, Office for Citizens with Developmental Disabilities, as a residential services specialist at Pinecrest Supports and Services Center, a residential facility for disabled individuals. During the course of her employment, Williams was involved in a physical altercation with a co-employee, Brenda Green. After an investigation, the Department determined Williams' conduct violated Pinecrest's workplace violence policy and constituted neglect in the care of the resident under her supervision. Based on those findings, the Department dismissed Williams from her employment.

         Williams appealed the Department's decision to the Civil Service Commission. At a hearing before a referee, the evidence established the altercation occurred while a group of residents were walking to a park under the supervision and care of four Department employees: Sandra Lowery, Zelda Hinkston, Green, and Williams. Each employee was assigned to a particular resident or group of residents. Williams was assigned to a "one-on-one" resident, which, for this particular resident, meant Williams was to remain within "arm's length" of the resident at all times.

         Hinkston, who was walking in the front of the group, heard Williams and Green arguing after Williams told Green to walk behind, rather than in front of, the residents under Green's care. Hinkston turned briefly and told them to quit arguing, then resumed walking to the park with her residents. Hinkston did not see a physical altercation but testified Williams was not within arm's length of her resident when Hinkston turned around.

         Lowry was third in line among the staff, walking immediately behind Williams and ahead of Green, who was in the back of the group. According to Lowry, after Williams and Green started arguing, Williams left the resident under her care and walked to the back of the group and confronted Green. Lowry heard Williams threaten to hit Green, and Green said, "Stop, don't push me." When Lowry turned around, she saw Williams "swinging" at Green, who had her arms up in a defensive posture. Lowry never saw Green try to hit Williams.

         Green testified she and Williams exchanged words after Williams told her to stay at the back with her residents. Green informed Williams she was with her group and Williams should mind the resident under her care, which prompted Williams to threaten to "come back there and hit you in your . . . face." Williams left her resident, walked to the back of the group, and began hitting Green in the face. Green denied provoking Williams in any manner or swinging back.

         Williams acknowledged telling Green to walk closer to her residents but denied confronting her. Instead, according to Williams, Green was the aggressor and began cursing Williams and waving her hands in Williams' face. When Green touched Williams' face, Williams pushed her hands back. Green then pulled Williams off the sidewalk and into an adjacent parking lot. Williams denied touching Green and said she acted only in self-defense. Williams ...


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