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LeBlanc v. Louisiana Department of Education

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

March 27, 2019



          Matthew Douglas McConnell McConnell Law Offices COUNSEL FOR CLAIMANT/APPELLANT: Ladessa Carol LeBlanc

          Sylvia M. Fordice Assistant Attorney General Louisiana Department of Justice, Division of Risk Management COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLEE: Louisiana Department of Education

          Court composed of Ulysses Gene Thibodeaux, Chief Judge, Billy Howard Ezell, and John E. Conery, Judges.


         The claimant, Ladessa Carol LeBlanc, appeals the ruling of the Workers' Compensation Judge (WCJ) dismissing her Disputed Claim For Compensation (Form 1008) on the basis that she was not within the course and scope of her employment with the Louisiana Department of Education (DOE). After her termination from the DOE on November 22, 2015, she claims to have sustained on-the-job injuries while returning her files and equipment at the DOE's request on February 3, 2016. For the following reasons, we reverse.


         The State of Louisiana employed Mrs. LeBlanc for eighteen years and five months. Her most recent position, which she had held for approximately the previous eight years, was as a Licensing Specialist II with the DOE. Mrs. LeBlanc's duties involved investigation and inspection of both licensed and unlicensed daycare facilities. Accordingly, she worked from her home in Abbeville, Louisiana, and maintained in her possession for use in her work duties both equipment and files belonging to the DOE.

         Beginning on July 7, 2015, Mrs. LeBlanc took temporary sick leave from her position for stress and mental health reasons stemming from alleged sexual harassment.[1] In correspondence dated November 2, 2015, from Shelia Campbell, Program Manager 2 - Social Services Division of Licensing, and copied to Mr. Jason Hannaman, the Human Resources Director, Mrs. LeBlanc was notified as follows:

As of today, you have fewer than eight hours of sick leave and you are medically unable to perform the essential functions of your job as a Licensing Specialist. Therefore, I propose to non-disciplinarily remove you from your position under Civil Service Rule 12.6(a)1, which provides:
12.6 Non-disciplinary Removals.
(a) An employee may be non-disciplinarily removed under the following circumstances:
1. When, on the date of the notice required by Rule 12.7 is mailed, hand delivered, or orally given, the employee is unable to perform the essential functions of his job due to illness or medical disability and has fewer than eight hours of sick leave. An employee removed under this provision shall be paid for all remaining sick leave.
You have the right to respond to this proposed action. This is your opportunity to explain why you should not be removed. To be considered, your response should be received in writing by 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, November 11, 2015. For your convenience, your response may be faxed . . . or emailed . . . .

         Mrs. LeBlanc did not timely respond to the November 2, 2015 correspondence, and on November 13, 2015, she was sent correspondence from State Superintendent of Education, John White, informing her that she was to be formally removed from her position with the DOE pursuant to Civil Service Rule 12.6(a), effective "at the close of business on Sunday, November 22, 2015." Mrs. LeBlanc was further informed that since this was a non-disciplinary removal, she was entitled to retain certain eligibilities should she seek state employment in the future. The November 2, 2015 correspondence was also copied to Ms. Campbell, Mr. Hannaman, and Ashley Dorsey-Foster, Program Manager I - Social Services.

         On December 8, 2015, Ms. Joan Hunt, Executive Counsel for the DOE, responded to letters dated November 9 and November 29, 2015, from Mrs. LeBlanc's attorney, Mr. Matthew McConnell, objecting to the DOE contacting Mrs. LeBlanc directly when she was represented by counsel. The DOE responded to Mr. McConnell that it was entitled to "contact its employees directly regarding employment issues," despite Mrs. LeBlanc's "non-disciplinary removal" from her position in accordance with Louisiana Civil Service Rule 12.6(a)1. Accordingly, Mr. McConnell was also informed that the "Human Resources staff from the Department will be contacting Mrs. LeBlanc this week to schedule a date and time for her to return the following equipment owned by the Department." A listing of eleven items followed in the correspondence which Mrs. LeBlanc was expected to return to what was eventually determined to be the loading dock of the DOE's Claiborne Office Building in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Testimony at the hearing revealed that the December 8, 2015 letter signed by Ms. Hunt had been prepared by Ms. Denise Brou, also an attorney for the DOE.

         On December 9, 2015, in an email to Ms. Brou, counsel for the DOE, Mr. Hannaman, the DOE Human Resources Director, indicated that he had attempted to call Mrs. LeBlanc, but reached her father who advised that he needed to refer this request to her attorney, Mr. McConnell. Mr. Hannaman suggested to Ms. Brou that Mrs. LeBlanc's attorney be sent the attached list of equipment and that he be reminded that the equipment was state-owned property that must be returned to the DOE by Mrs. LeBlanc.

         Also, on December 9, 2015, in an email from Mr. Hannaman to Ms. Brou, he indicated that Mrs. LeBlanc had left him a message to call her. Mr. Hannaman returned Mrs. LeBlanc's call, and she explained her situation. She told him she did not see how she could return the equipment from her home in Abbeville, Louisiana, as she had not received a release to work from her medical provider. The record reflects that Mrs. LeBlanc was being treated for Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) and Acute Anxiety Disorder. Mr. Hannaman advised Mrs. LeBlanc that her attorney had been notified about the equipment and that maybe she could coordinate with him. Mr. Hannaman testified at the hearing that after speaking with Mrs. LeBlanc for the first time on December 9, 2015, he learned she had been on medical leave prior to her termination and was not yet released to work by her medical provider.

         Upon obtaining this information, Mr. Hannaman emailed Debbie Threeton, Operational Support Services Administrative Program Specialist for the DOE. In the email he informed Ms. Threeton that Mrs. LeBlanc was no longer an employee of DOE. He further stated, "We are working with her representatives to retrieve the property listed below . . . however we are unsure of the time it may take to retrieve these items." Mr. Hannaman requested that Ms. Threeton "deactivate any services currently attached to any of this equipment." Ms. Threeton responded that she intended to "temporally [sic] suspend the service to the iphone and the MiFi."

         The email correspondence on December 9, 2015, appears to be the last contact made with Mrs. LeBlanc until the middle of January. Under direct examination at the hearing, Mr. Hannaman testified he did not mention to Mrs. LeBlanc anything about picking up what turned out to be seven boxes of files from her home, along with the listed equipment contained in the December 8, 2015 letter from Ms. Hunt. "Nor did anyone else say anything to him about picking up the files from her home."

         Nonetheless, on cross-examination at the hearing, a discussion ensued about the ability of Mrs. LeBlanc to return the equipment when Mr. Hannaman was specifically asked:

Q So, you never said anything to Ladessa LeBlanc saying you have to return it by date X?
A I don't recall having something where I said having to return by date X. It was an attempt to retrieve the equipment in a timely fashion.
Q Yes, your goal was to get the equipment back?
A Right. Because we have - -
Q And as far as you know, or maybe you don't know about confidential case files, investigation files. Is that your bailiwick?
A No. My only knowledge was of the equipment as outlined in this letter [December 8, 2015]. The technology.
Mr. Hannaman was then questioned on cross-examination about Mrs. LeBlanc's prior testimony that she had requested that the DOE come to her home in Abbeville, Louisiana, to pick up ...

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