United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana
ORDER AND REASONS
L. C. FELDMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court is the plaintiff's motion for partial summary
judgment that HAJP: (1) terminated her in violation of the
employment agreement, (2) failed to compensate her for her
accrued, unused vacation and sick time as required by the
agreement, (3) owes her compensatory pay, and (4) is subject
to statutory penalties and attorneys' fees pursuant to
La. R.S. § 23:632. For the following reasons, the
plaintiff's motion for partial summary judgment is
GRANTED in part, as to her claims for vacation and sick time,
statutory penalty wages, and reasonable attorneys' fees,
and DENIED in part, as to her claims for improper termination
and compensatory pay.
lawsuit arises out of the termination of a long-term employee
of the Housing Authority of Jefferson Parish
a public body that provides housing assistance to low income
residents in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana through the
administration of various programs. On June 2, 2009, HAJP
hired Elizabeth Gartman to serve as its Office Manager. Upon
the expiration of Gartman's initial employment agreement,
Gartman and HAJP executed another employment agreement with a
term extending from June 2, 2012 through June 2, 2017.
Article 12.01(b) of this agreement provides that “[t]he
Office Manager shall be an at-will employee, and may be
terminated with or without cause, with or without notice by
the Executive Director.” Moreover, Article 7.02
stipulates that, “[u]pon voluntary resignation or
termination, the Office Manager shall be compensated for all
accrued unused vacation and sick leave without restriction or
penalty, with a 30 day notice, according to Civil Service
guidelines.” As of April 2016, Gartman's
contractual rate of pay was $33.15 per hour.
early 2016, HAJP did not to renew its employment contract
with the Executive Director. Gartman was appointed
Acting/Interim Executive Director by a resolution of the
Board of Commissioners on April 12, 2016. Although this
appointment was intended to last for ninety days, it was
extended indefinitely until a permanent Executive Director
was hired. Indeed, Gartman retained this role for the
remainder of her tenure with HAJP, which came to an end on
February 21, 2017 when the Board of Commissioners terminated
her employment. At the time of Gartman's termination, she
had accumulated 463.73 hours of unused vacation time and
550.24 hours of sick time.
her termination, Gartman's attorney sent demand letters
via email to two members of the Board on March 15, 2017, and
to HAJP's General Counsel on April 12, 2017, demanding
compensation allegedly due under her employment agreement for
the full term of the contract. Specifically, the letters
sought $19, 359.60 in unpaid wages from the date of her
termination through the expiration of date of the contract,
$33, 613.11 worth of accumulated vacation and sick time, the
value of other employment-related benefits through the end of
the employment agreement, statutory penalty wages and
attorneys' fees, and other employment related sums.
on November 13, 2017, Gartman brought this lawsuit against
HAJP, alleging that she was retaliated against in violation
of the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. § 3730(h), and in
violation of her federal due process rights. She also alleged
several claims under state law, including breach of the
employment agreement, slander and defamation, detrimental
reliance, intentional interference with contractual
relations, intentional infliction of emotion distress in the
workplace, improper termination of benefits, and unfair trade
Gartman's complaint submits that because the employment
agreement states that her employment could be terminated only
by the Executive Director of HAJP, by terminating her
employment by the HAJP Board of Commissioners on February 21,
2017, prior to the agreement's end date of June 2, 2017,
HAJP breached the agreement. Accordingly, Gartman alleges
that HAJP owes her $19, 359.60 in unpaid wages for the period
between her termination on February 21, 2017 and the
expiration of the agreement on June 2, 2017, as well as the
value of other employment-related benefits to which she was
allegedly entitled. Gartman further contends that because
HAJP failed to pay her for the 463.73 hours of unused
vacation time and 550.24 hours of unused sick time that she
had accumulated as of her termination in contravention of the
agreement, HAJP owes her $33, 613.11 for the value of her
accrued vacation and sick time. Moreover, she seeks $49, 725 in
compensatory pay that she allegedly accumulated during her
employment. Finally, Gartman asserts that because she was not
compensated for her accrued, unused vacation and sick time
within 15 days of her termination, she is entitled to
statutory penalty wages pursuant to La. R.S. § 23:632,
and since written demand for this claim was made to HAJP more
than three days prior to the filing of this suit, she is
entitled to an award of reasonable attorneys' fees.
now moves for partial summary judgment on her claims that
HAJP: (1) terminated her in violation of the employment
agreement, (2) failed to compensate her for her accrued,
unused vacation and sick time as required by the agreement,
(3) owes her compensatory pay, and (4) is liable for
statutory penalty wages and reasonable attorneys' fees
pursuant to La. R.S. § 23:632.
Rule of Civil Procedure 56 instructs that summary judgment is
proper if the record discloses no genuine dispute as to any
material fact such that the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. No. genuine dispute of fact
exists if the record taken as a whole could not lead a
rational trier of fact to find for the non-moving party.
See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio
Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). A genuine dispute of
fact exists only "if the evidence is such that a
reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving
party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477
U.S. 242, 248 (1986).
mere argued existence of a factual dispute does not defeat an
otherwise properly supported motion. See id. In this
regard, the non-moving party must do more than simply deny
the allegations raised by the moving party. See Donaghey
v. Ocean Drilling & Exploration Co., 974 F.2d 646,
649 (5th Cir. 1992). Rather, he must come forward with
competent evidence, such as affidavits or depositions, to
buttress his claims. Id. Hearsay evidence and
unsworn documents that cannot be presented in a form that
would be admissible in evidence at trial do not qualify as
competent opposing evidence. Martin v. John W. Stone Oil
Distrib., Inc., 819 F.2d 547, 549 (5th Cir. 1987);
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c)(2). "[T]he nonmoving party cannot
defeat summary judgment with conclusory allegations,
unsubstantiated assertions, or only a scintilla of
evidence." Hathaway v. Bazany, 507 F.3d 312,
319 (5th Cir. 2007)(internal quotation marks and citation
omitted). Ultimately, "[i]f the evidence is merely
colorable . . . or is not significantly probative,"
summary judgment is appropriate. Anderson, 477 U.S.
at 249 (citations omitted); King v. Dogan, 31 F.3d
344, 346 (5th Cir. 1994) (“Unauthenticated documents
are improper as summary judgment evidence.”).
seeks partial summary judgment that HAJP breached the
employment agreement in the following two ways: (1)
terminating her by the Board of Commissioners, rather than
the Executive Director, and (2) failing to compensate her for
her accrued, unused vacation and sick time upon her
law provides that “the essential elements of a breach
of contract claim are the existence of a contract, the
party's breach thereof, and resulting damages. The party
claiming the rights under the contract bears the burden of
proof.” 1100 S. Jefferson Davis Parkway, LLC v.
Williams, 2014-1326 (La.App. 4 Cir. 5/20/15); 165 So.3d
1211, 1216. Accordingly, to succeed on each aforementioned
claim, Gartman must show that there has been a breach of the
terms of her employment agreement.
first seeks partial summary judgment that HAJP breached the
employment agreement by terminating her by the Board of
Commissioners, rather than the Executive Director. As such,
the Court turns to Article 12.01(b), the relevant provision
of the agreement regarding termination. This provision
The Office Manager shall be an at-will employee, and may be
terminated with or without cause, with or without notice by
the Executive Director.
Order and Reasons dated February 22, 2018, this Court
recognized that Gartman was an at-will
Gartman's employment agreement provides that she is an
at-will, not a for-cause, employee. In her complaint and
again in her opposition, she concedes that she is an
unclassified employee . . . . Because Gartman herself alleged
that she is an at-will and unclassified employee, she does
not have a property interest in employment and her employment
may be terminated without due process.
Gartman v. Hous. Auth. Of Jefferson Par., 17-12375,
2018 WL 1010194, *10 (E.D. La. Feb. 22, 2018).
Gartman concedes in her deposition testimony that HAJP could
terminate her for no reason.
Q: And you've worked in Louisiana for a
long time. Are you familiar with at will employment?
A. They can fire you for no reason at all.
Q. Right. Okay. And was that your
understanding of your employment at the Housing ...