This is an appeal by a police officer from a disciplinary action. We affirm.
FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Robert D. McGehee was a sergeant with the City of Baton Rouge Police Department ("BRPD") at the time of the pertinent events. On August 21, 1998, BRPD Chief Greg Phares directed an interdepartmental memorandum to Sergeant McGehee, advising him that because of his unprofessional conduct toward Corporal Pamela Anderson, which could be characterized as sexual harassment, official disciplinary action was being considered. Sergeant McGehee was notified of a pre-disciplinary hearing to be held in Chief Phares' office on September 3, 1998. On October 27, 1998, Chief Phares notified Sergeant McGehee of his decision to suspend him for three days, finding Corporal Anderson's account of the allegedly sexually offensive joke as credible, and rejecting Sergeant McGehee's innocuous version.
Plaintiff appealed his suspension to the Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service
It is the duty of the court to examine subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte, even when the issue is not raised by the litigants. Metro Riverboat Associates, Inc. v. Louisiana Gaming Control Board, 99-0863, p. 3 (La.App. 1st Cir.12/20/00), 774 So.2d 1193, 1197 (on rehearing), writ granted, 2001-0185 (La.6/1/01), 793 So.2d 188.
Although LSA-R.S. 33:2501(E) gives a classified employee a right to an appeal from a disciplinary action to the appropriate district court, there is no provision in the Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Law, LSA-R.S. 33:2471 et seq., that allows a second appeal from the district court's judgment to the court of appeal.
LSA-Const. Art. V, Section 10(A) gives an appellate court jurisdiction over all civil matters. Thus, we must determine whether the action at issue qualifies as a "civil matter" as defined by the Louisiana Supreme Court in In the Matter of American Waste, 588 So.2d 367 (La. 1991), and Moore v. Roemer, 567 So.2d 75 (La.1990). In American Waste and Moore v. Roemer, the supreme court indicated that "civil matters" are those that have been traditionally adjudicated in the district courts, such as the adjudication of disputes between private parties resulting in money judgments affecting only those parties. "Civil matters" are those where private citizens have historically had the independent right to bring suit in the district court for relief. American Waste,
LSA-Const. Art. X, § 8 provides that, "No person who has gained permanent status in the classified state or city service shall be subjected to disciplinary action except for cause expressed in writing." This provision was cited by the court in Murray v. Department of Revenue and Taxation, 504 So.2d 561, 564 (La.App. 1st Cir.1986), writs denied, 504 So.2d 880, 882, 883 (La.1987), in holding, "this is enough to create a property right in employment with the State as it creates a definable and defensible interest in continued employment."
However, the classified city civil service established by the Louisiana Constitution extends only to those cities having a population over 400,000 or whose voters have elected to opt into the system. See LSA-Const. Art. X, § 1 and § 14. Further, firemen and policemen, in any municipality
In Faught v. City of Alexandria, 560 So.2d 671, 674 (La.App. 3rd Cir.1990), writ denied, 565 So.2d 447 (La.1990), the court, reviewing a suspension of a police officer, held that a property right is involved where an employee has been disciplined by suspension although not necessarily significant enough to require a pre-suspension hearing (post-suspension hearing held sufficient), citing the Supreme Court in Bell v. DHHR, 483 So.2d 945 (La.1986), cert. denied, 479 U.S. 827, 107 S.Ct. 105, 93 L.Ed.2d 55 (1986). The Bell court held that LSA-Const. Art. X, § 8 does not apply
The present case involves the one-day suspension of a police officer from his duties. Under the jurisprudence discussed above, the suspension constitutes a property interest, albeit a de minimis one. Thus, we conclude this court has appellate jurisdiction in this matter and will consider the merits of the appeal.
Sergeant McGehee was suspended for violations of BRPD's Policies and Procedures Manual Disciplinary Code, Section XII, "Disciplinary Articles," subsections 0:0, 2:10, 3:14, and 3:23,
Any regular employee in the classified service who feels that he has been discharged or subjected to any corrective or disciplinary action without just cause, may, within fifteen days after the action, demand, in writing, a hearing and investigation by the Board to determine the reasonableness of the action. LSA-R.S. 33:2501(A). The Board may, if the evidence is conclusive, affirm the action of the appointing authority. If it finds that the action was not taken in good faith for cause, the Board shall order the immediate reinstatement or reemployment of such person in the office, place, position, or employment from which he was removed, suspended, demoted, or discharged, which reinstatement shall, if the Board so provides, be retroactive and entitle him to his regular pay from the time of removal, suspension, demotion, discharge, or other disciplinary action. The Board may modify the order of removal, suspension, demotion, discharge, or other disciplinary action by directing a suspension without pay, for a given period. LSA-R.S. 33:2501(C)(1). The appointing authority must prove its case by a preponderance of the evidence. Shields v. City of Shreveport, 579 So.2d 961, 964 (La.1991); Jordan v. City of Baton Rouge, 93-2125, p. 4 (La.App. 1st Cir.3/10/95), 652 So.2d 701, 704.
Any employee under classified service and any appointing authority may appeal from any decision of the Board, or from any action taken by the Board that is prejudicial to the employee or appointing
The testimony presented to the Board reflects that in 1998, Corporal Pamela Anderson was assigned to the Third District as a uniform patrol officer. Her immediate supervisor was Sergeant Robert McGehee. Corporal Anderson testified that in early 1998, Sergeant McGehee called her outside of the station, and in the presence of Lieutenant Stephen Chaney, told her a joke, the punch line of which commented on her breasts. Sergeant McGehee testified that the punch line of his joke referred to her "boots."
BRPD Chief Greg Phares testified that following an investigation and pre-disciplinary hearing, he found Corporal Anderson's statements credible and Sergeant McGehee's statements to be untruthful. Consequently, Chief Phares issued Sergeant McGehee a three-day suspension for conduct unbecoming an officer, sexual harassment, and untruthfulness. Although the Board did not issue written reasons for its ruling, implicit in its decision upholding the suspension, though reducing its duration, is the failure to find error in Chief Phares' findings of fact. After a thorough examination of the record, we are likewise unable to find manifest error in these factual findings.
Sergeant McGehee contends that his suspension was in error for a number of reasons, which can be summarized as follows: (1) only a single infraction constituted the basis for the action; (2) he had not been informed that his actions were unwelcome and offensive; and, (3) the accusations were retaliatory. We find no merit in these arguments.
Although BRPD General Order Number 140 requires employees encountering harassment to tell the person that their actions are unwelcome and offensive, such a declaration is not a prerequisite to disciplinary action. In fact, the general order states that the "incident(s)" shall be reported to a supervisor so that "appropriate investigative and disciplinary measures may be initiated." Obviously, in using "incident(s)" rather than "incidents," it was intended that only one incident is sufficient to be actionable. If a declaration to the offending party were a prerequisite to the referenced "investigative and disciplinary measures," the harassment policy would, in effect, give employees free rein to commit one infraction without impunity regardless of the severity of the infraction. We do not believe such a scenario was intended in the enactment of these rules.
Sergeant McGehee further argues that Corporal Anderson's behavior on the job, in readily discussing intimate topics and in engaging in the telling of obscene jokes on prior occasions, demonstrates her receptiveness rather than objection to such repartee. He cites as error the Board's refusal to hear evidence of Corporal Anderson's behavior of this nature. "Sexual harassment" is defined in the BRPD Disciplinary Articles, subsection 3:14 as "unwanted sexual advances or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature." In BRPD General Order Number 140, sexual harassment is defined as "unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature...." The wording of
Unquestionably, Sergeant McGehee was found guilty of failing to tell the truth regarding the nature of the comments directed toward Corporal Anderson. Without considering the other alleged rule violations, we find the one-day suspension properly imposed for this individual infraction. In Sholes v. Department of Police, 97-1768, p. 1 (La.App. 4th Cir.2/25/98), 707 So.2d 1055, 1056, failing to tell the truth, regarding securing a building where an alarm had sounded, resulted in a ten-day suspension for a police officer. In City of Kenner Fire Department v. Kenner Municipal Fire and Police Civil Service Board, 99-86, p. 6 (La.App. 5th Cir.6/1/99), 738 So.2d 114, 117, a firefighter who called in sick and then went to work at a part-time job was found to deserve a suspension of more than ten days. In Macelli v. New Orleans Police Department, 98-1441, p. 5 (La.App. 4th Cir.10/21/98), 720 So.2d 754, 757, writ denied, 98-2906 (La.1/15/99), 736 So.2d 211, a police officer received a suspension of one hundred days for failing to tell the truth, coupled with past infractions. In Smith v. New Orleans Police Department, 99-0024, p. 1 (La.App. 4th Cir.9/22/99), 743 So.2d 834, 836, writ denied, 99-3242 (La.1/14/00), 753 So.2d 221, failing to tell the truth, coupled with other infractions, led to the termination of employment of a police officer. Consequently, we believe the one-day suspension received by Sergeant McGehee was correct.
Having found the suspension supportable on the basis of dishonesty alone, we find it unnecessary to address plaintiff's other contentions and pretermit his remaining assignments of error.
For the reasons assigned herein, we affirm the judgment of the district court upholding the one-day suspension of Robert D. McGehee. All costs of this appeal are to be paid by plaintiff/appellant herein.