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Doyle v. Sewerage And Water Board

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

May 16, 2018




          James E. Thompson, III Jade Russell-Brown, Interim Special Counsel SEWERAGE AND WATER BOARD OF NEW ORLEANS COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE

          (Court composed of Judge Terri F. Love, Judge Joy Cossich Lobrano, Judge Tiffany G. Chase)

          TERRI F. LOVE, JUDGE.

         This matter arises from termination of Terrie Doyle ("Ms. Doyle") from her employ with the Sewage and Water Board ("SWB"). Ms. Doyle seeks reversal of the Civil Service Commission's ("the Commission") ruling that denied her an award of back pay from the date of her termination. In that Ms. Doyle's due process rights were not violated, the Commission did not err in denying Ms. Doyle back pay. Accordingly, we affirm the Commission's judgment.


         Ms. Doyle was a classified employee with permanent status and worked as an Office Assistant Trainee for the SWB for the City of New Orleans. Ms. Doyle was suspended for five days for violating the SWB's attendance policy and was later terminated for a subsequent attendance policy violation. Between March and April 2016, the SWB issued to Ms. Doyle one verbal reprimand and seven written reprimands for violations of its attendance policy.

         In a prior appeal, Doyle v. Sewage & Water Board, Doc. No. 8511 ("Doyle I") involving the same parties, the Commission found that the SWB did not have sufficient cause to issue a written reprimand and three-day suspension related to a March 2016 absence. The Commission noted that Ms. Doyle had a "dismal record of punctuality and attendance, but that the incident… should have been classified as an excused absence" under the SWB's attendance policy. The Commission further held that the SWB could rely upon earlier reprimands in issuing future discipline.

         In April 2016, the SWB subsequently issued to Ms. Doyle a five-day suspension for three additional written reprimands Ms. Doyle received following the three-day suspension vacated in Doyle I. Ms. Doyle did not contest the facts that resulted in her five-day suspension but alleged that the SWB attendance policy mandates a three-day suspension before the SWB may issue a five-day suspension. The SWB argued that it has the discretion to determine the appropriate level of discipline for violations of its attendance policy and that the penalty matrix serves as a guide.

         In another incident, in May 2016, Ms. Doyle reported for work when at some time in the late morning she received a call from her daughter's school. The school informed her that her daughter had a temperature of 102 degrees. The school's policy required that her daughter remain away from school until she no longer had a fever or a physician released her to return to school. No one in Ms. Doyle's family was available to pick up her daughter. When Ms. Doyle received the call, both of Ms. Doyle's supervisors were meeting with new employees. Ms. Doyle did not enter the room where her supervisors were conducting the orientation, but she attempted to catch their attention through the window of the door. She was unsuccessful, so she decided to notify the office assistant, a higher ranking employee than Ms. Doyle. The office assistant agreed to let Ms. Doyle's supervisors know, and Ms. Doyle left work to pick up her daughter from school. Ms. Doyle left at 10:29 a.m., dropped her daughter off at her boyfriend's residence, and returned to work by 11:17 a.m. Ms. Doyle worked through her lunch break to make up the time she lost. Ms. Doyle received a written reprimand the following day because she "left work without informing [her] supervisor." Thereafter, Ms. Doyle received a letter from the SWB notifying her of her termination.

         Ms. Doyle filed an appeal with the Commission, challenging her five-day suspension and termination. In August 2017, the Commission granted in part and denied in part Ms. Doyle's appeal. The Commission denied Ms. Doyle's appeal as to her five-day suspension. However, the Commission granted her appeal as to her termination and ordered Ms. Doyle reinstated but without back pay and emoluments. On appeal to this Court, Ms. Doyle seeks reversal of the Commission's denial of her request for back pay.


         This Court reviews findings of fact under the manifest error/clearly wrong standard of review. La. Const. art. X, § 12(B); Thornabar v. Dep't of Police, 08-0464, p. 2-3 (La.App. 4 Cir. 10/15/08), 997 So.2d 75, 77. "In determining whether the disciplinary action was based on good cause and whether the punishment is commensurate with the infraction, this court should not modify the Civil Service Commission determination unless it is arbitrary, capricious, or characterized by an abuse of discretion." Id. (citing Cure v. Dep't of Police, 07- 0166, p. 2 (La.App. 4 Cir. 8/1/07), 964 So.2d 1093, 1094). A decision is arbitrary ...

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