FROM CITY CIVIL SERVICE COMMISSION ORLEANS NO. 8454 C/W 8455
Valencia Lewis PLAINTIFF/APPELLANT, IN PROPER PERSON
Michael J. Laughlin ASSISTANT CITY ATTORNEY Elizabeth S.
Robins DEPUTY CITY ATTORNEY Rebecca H. Dietz CITY ATTORNEY
COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE
composed of Judge Terri F. Love, Judge Joy Cossich Lobrano,
Judge Dennis R. Bagneris, Pro Tempore
Cossich Lobrano Judge
civil service case, plaintiff/appellant, Valencia Lewis
("Lewis"), appeals the decision of the Civil
Service Commission ("CSC"), upholding the
suspension and termination of Lewis' employment. Lewis
held the position of Office Assistant I for the Youth Study
Center ("YSC"), a secure, pre-trial detention
facility for youths accused of delinquent offenses in Orleans
Parish, under the direction of the defendant/appellee,
Department of Human Services ("DHS" or the
"appointing authority"). DHS placed Lewis on
emergency suspension, and subsequently terminated Lewis'
employment, for violating internal employee rules of conduct
prohibiting threatening other employees, after Lewis made
comments regarding her desire to "hit" her
supervisor, Assistant Superintendent Stephanie Mills
("Mills"). For the reasons that follow, we affirm
the decision of the CSC.
facts leading up to Lewis' discipline are as follows. On
the morning of September 1, 2015, Lewis met with Assistant
Superintendent Leroy Crawford ("Crawford"), to
inform him she was feeling ill and wanted to leave work to
seek medical care. Lewis also expressed to Crawford various
frustrations with her work assignments and Lewis'
feelings that Mills treated her with disrespect. Lewis stated
that she would "get so mad" with Mills that she
"want[ed] to hit her in the face." Crawford brought
Lewis to the office of Superintendent Glenn Holt
("Holt"), where Crawford informed Holt of
same date, September 1, 2015, Holt sent Lewis a disciplinary
letter on behalf of DHS, notifying Lewis that she had been
placed on emergency suspension effective September 2, 2015.
The letter stated that the appointing authority had
determined that Lewis' comments directed toward Mills
were in violation of YSC internal rules relative to (a)
treating coworkers professionally and with respect; and (b)
prohibiting violent acts or threatening other employees.
Following a pre-termination hearing on September 21, 2015,
Lewis was terminated on September 24, 2015 for violation of
the rule prohibiting threatening other employees.
appealed her suspension and termination to the CSC.
Lewis' CSC appeal proceeded to hearing on March 17, 2016.
On January 23, 2017, the hearing examiner issued his report
in which he concluded that the appointing authority met its
burden of proof and established by a preponderance of the
evidence that Lewis was disciplined for cause, that
Lewis' conduct impaired the public service, and that the
discipline imposed was commensurate with the offense. On
March 27, 2017, the CSC denied Lewis' appeal, upholding
her suspension and termination. This appeal followed.
"has authority to 'hear and decide' disciplinary
cases, which includes the authority to modify (reduce) as
well as to reverse or affirm a penalty." Pope v. New
Orleans Police Dep't, 2004-1888, p. 5 (La.App. 4
Cir. 4/20/05), 903 So.2d 1, 4 (quoting La. Const. art. X,
§12). "The appointing authority is charged with the
operation of its department, and it is within its discretion
to discipline an employee for sufficient cause."
Gast v. Dep't of Police, 2013-0781, p. 3
(La.App. 4 Cir. 3/13/14), 137 So.3d 731, 733. "The CSC
is not charged with such discipline." Id.
"[T]he authority to reduce a penalty can only be
exercised if there is insufficient cause for imposing the
greater penalty." Pope, 2004-1888 at p. 5, 903
So.2d at 4.
appointing authority has the burden of proving, by a
preponderance of the evidence that the complained of activity
or dereliction occurred, and that such dereliction bore a
real and substantial relationship to the efficient operation
of the appointing authority." Cure v. Dep't of
Police, 2007-0166, p. 2 (La.App. 4 Cir. 8/1/07), 964
So.2d 1093, 1094 (citing Marziale v. Dep't of
Police, 2006-0459, p. 10 (La.App. 4 Cir. 11/8/06), 944
So.2d 760, 767). "The protection of civil service
employees is only against firing (or other discipline)
without cause." Cornelius v. Dep't of
Police, 2007-1257, 2007-1258, p. 7 (La.App. 4 Cir.
3/19/08), 981 So.2d 720, 724 (quoting Fihlman v. New
Orleans Police Dep't, 2000-2360, p. 5 (La.App. 4
Cir. 10/31/01), 797 So.2d 783, 787).
determining whether an appointing authority properly imposed
disciplinary action against a classified employee, the
reviewing court must consider whether the punishment is
commensurate with the offense." Gast, 2013-0781
at p. 4, 137 So.3d at 734 (citing Staehle v. Dep't of
Police, 98-0216, p. 5 (La.App. 4 Cir. 11/18/98), 723
So.2d 1031, 1034). "The evidence in the record must
establish a rational basis for the imposed discipline."
Id. (citations omitted).
Court applies the following standard of review to Civil
Service Commission cases:
First, the review by appellate courts of the factual findings
in a civil service case is governed by the manifest error or
clearly erroneous standard. Second, when the Commission's
decision involves jurisdiction, procedure, and interpretation
of laws or regulations, judicial review is not limited to the
arbitrary, capricious, or abuse of discretion standard.
Instead, on legal issues, appellate courts give no special
weight to the findings of the trial court, but exercise their
constitutional duty to review questions of law and render
judgment on the record. A legal error occurs when a trial
court applies the incorrect principles of law and such ...