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Farace v. City of Pineville

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, Third Circuit

May 22, 2019





          Court composed of Sylvia R. Cooks, Shannon J. Gremillion, and Phyllis M. Keaty, Judges.


         Appellant, Sabrina Farace, an employee of the Pineville Police Department, appeals the judgment of the trial court affirming the decision of the Pineville Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board (hereafter Board) to uphold her involuntary discharge that occurred on November 10, 2016. For the following reasons, we affirm the judgment of the trial court.


         At the pertinent time in question, Ms. Farace had been employed as a police officer with the Pineville Police Department for approximately seven years. The record established Ms. Farace was on authorized sick leave from October 26, 2016 through November 8, 2016 ("Excuse 1"). She was designated to return to her job on November 9, 2016. Ms. Farace did not return to work that day, but instead saw her physician, Dr. Charlotte Merrill, at 8:00 a.m. that morning. Ms. Farace maintained Dr. Merrill continued her sick leave through November 22, 2016 ("Excuse 2"). Dr. Merrill testified that, after seeing Ms. Farace on November 9, she "decided the best thing for [Ms. Farace] would be to take an extension and have a two week excuse." Dr. Merrill testified that she handed Excuse 2 to Ms. Farace, who then told Dr. Merrill she was "going right now to hand this in." There was a dispute as to when the City received Excuse 2.

         Ms. Farace contends that she contacted Ms. Tammie Connella, the secretary to Pineville Police Chief Don Weatherford, the two met in the side parking lot of the police station, and she handed Excuse 2 to Ms. Connella. This was disputed by the City of Pineville, which claims that it did not received Excuse 2 on November 9, 2016. It is not disputed that Ms. Farace previously handed Ms. Connella Excuse 1, but Ms. Connella testified that she never received Excuse 2 from Ms. Farace.

         Ms. Farace was called by Deputy Chief of Operations James Rachal to the Pineville Police Department on November 10, 2016. Deputy Chief Rachal informed Ms. Farace that her failure to report on November 9, 2016 constituted a resignation in accordance with Rule XII, Section P of the Pineville Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board. Ms. Farace did not voice any objection or allege any basis existed to extend her sick leave but signed the resignation notice and left the premises. Later that day, a Personal Action Form was submitted to the City, and the Board processed her resignation.

         According to Ms. Farace, following the November 10 meeting, she then went immediately to see Dr. Merrill, who wrote a letter to Chief Weatherford explaining that Ms. Farace had not been released to return to work on November 9, 2016 and was still on sick leave. Dr. Merrill described Ms. Farace as being "very distraught," and Ms. Farace told Dr. Merrill she had been "fired."

         Dr. Merrill testified that her office attempted to fax the letter to Chief Weatherford that day; however, the time stamp from the chief's fax machine shows it was received on November 15, 2016. Dr. Merrill testified she could not explain why the fax was not received until November 15, 2016, but maintained that she sent it on November 10, 2016, and received "verification on our end" in the form of a message on her fax machine.

         Chief Weatherford testified that on November 9, 2016, he was contacted by the sergeant running the morning shift to ask why Ms. Farace had not reported for her shift. Chief Weatherford asked Ms. Connella whether there were any other excuses to extend Ms. Farace's leave but was told there were none. According to Chief Weatherford, the department waited the entire day to see if Ms. Farace would contact them to explain why she had not appeared for her shift. Chief Weatherford acknowledged that no attempt was made by the City to contact Ms. Farace to determine why she had not appeared for work.

         Deputy Chief Rachal testified he called Ms. Farace into his office on November 10, 2016 and gave her the "resignation" letter with instructions to sign. He stated Ms. Farace did not, at any point during the time she was in his office, mention anything about a doctor's note extending her sick leave. Deputy Chief Rachal did acknowledge that Ms. Farace asked about her gun that had previously been taken from her. He testified that Ms. Farace was in his office no more than five minutes.

         Ms. Farace testified she turned in Excuse 2 on November 9, 2016. She stated she "physically put it into [Tammie Connella's] hands" when she met her in the side lot of the police station. Ms. Farace stated when she turned in Excuse 1, she did so inside the police station. The City presented printouts of Facebook Messenger messages between Tammie Connella and Ms. Farace about meeting in the side lot to hand over a doctor's slip. These messages were exchanged on October 31, 2016, which was the date the Excuse 1 was stamped as received. Ms. Farace maintained in her testimony the only time she handed in a doctor's slip to Tammie Connella in the side lot was on November 9, 2016.

         Ms. Farace testified she was called in to the police department on November 10, 2016. She testified as follows concerning that meeting:

A. [Deputy Chief Rachal] called and told me that he had some paperwork for me to sign and I came up to the Police Department to sign paperwork and when I went into his office[, ] he had the resignation letter and stuff. He told me he said, you can read over it and sign. I read over it quickly and signed and gave it to him and walked out.
Q. Now, you heard him testify that you didn't mention anything about the doctor or the return to work slip, why didn't you say anything about that?
A. I don't know why he didn't.
Q. You mean, why you didn't?
A. Why I didn't?
Q. Yes, why you didn't say anything to him?
A. At the time, I mean, I didn't feel as if I had a choice or an argument in this - the case with him telling me to sign a resignation form that I did not tell anyone that I was going to resign or had no intentions of resigning.
Q. Okay. What did you do after that?
A. I went to the doctor's office to try and figure out what the deal was with ...

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