Getting fired from a job can be devastating for anyone, and getting fired from a job unjustly is even worse. You may believe that if you are wrongfully terminated, you are entitled to all the costs, including attorney’s fees, that you incur in any legal action you take against your employer. However, the law is not always based on our notions of what is fair, as one resident of Plaquemines Parish learned in her efforts to get her job back.
Loukisha Daisy began working as the Chief Internal Auditor at the Plaquemines Parish Government (“PPG”) on June 2, 2014. In hiring her, PPG attached a condition to Daisy’s employment contract that she must complete all the courses required to become a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) and pass the CPA exam by the end of her first year of employment.
In mid-June 2015, PPG informed Daisy that it was considering terminating her employment. PPG suspended Daisy and held a predetermination hearing on June 25, 2015. At the hearing, Daisy presented evidence supporting her continued employment. PPG nevertheless terminated Daisy’s employment on June 30, 2015. In the termination letter, PPG stated that Daisy did not obtain her CPA license as required in her employment contract, claimed that Daisy did not perform her work duties by her job description, and alleged that Daisy submitted a fraudulent letter concerning her CPA license as evidence in the predetermination hearing.
Daisy filed a petition of appeal to the Plaquemines Parish Civil Service Commission (the “Commission”), asking it to reverse her employment termination by PPG. (This step is required under Louisiana’s civil service rules.) Daisy requested that she be reinstated to her previous position and be compensated for any pay and benefits she lost while she was terminated. The Commission first found that, due to its lack of enforcement, PPG waived its right to require Daisy to obtain her CPA license within one year of starting her job. Additionally, the Commission found no evidence to support PPG’s allegations that Daisy failed to perform her work duties or that Daisy submitted a fraudulent letter during the predetermination hearing. As a result of the Commission’s findings, PPG reinstated Daisy to her previous position and paid her $22,827.70 in back pay. However, Daisy argued that PPG also owed her payment for attorney’s fees. The Commission denied Daisy’s request, and Daisy filed an appeal to Louisiana’s Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal.
In reviewing a judgment by a state Civil Service Commission, a Louisiana appellate court must determine whether the Commission’s ruling was “arbitrary or capricious,” Aucoin v. Department of Police, 229 So. 3d 531 (La. Ct. App. 2017), by determining whether there is a rational basis for the judgment, Williams v. Department of Utilities, 867 So.2d 26 (La. Ct. App. 2004).
Daisy argued that the Commission’s judgment denying her an award of attorney’s fees lacked a rational basis because her termination by PPG was so “egregious and unreasonable.” However, the court noted that the award of attorney’s fees is generally not allowed under Louisiana law unless such an award is authorized explicitly by statute or provided for in a contract. The same presumption applies to the civil service rules here. Because Daisy cited no authority — nor could the Appellate Court find one of its own efforts — that required the Commission to award her attorney’s fees, the Appellate Court found no error in the Commission’s decision to deny her the award.
Being considered “special damages” under Louisiana law, attorney fees should not be assumed in any case, even for the prevailing party. Without a specific authorization in the law or in a private agreement between parties, courts are reluctant to award attorney’s fees as a matter of course. Anyone considering demanding attorney’s fees as part of a legal action should consult with an experienced attorney before doing so. Particularly in the event of an appeal, demand for such an award may be a lost (and expensive) cause if certain conditions are not met.
Additional Source: DAISY v. PLAQUEMINES PARISH GOV’T.
Written by Berniard Law Firm Blog Writer: Peter Lee
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