• 13 Lawyers Provided as Diligent Assistance for Pro Se Employee's Wrongful Discharge Appeal
  • October 6, 2017 | Authors: Eve B. Masinter; Jerry L. Stovall; Rachael M. Coe; Jacob E. Roussel; Murphy J. Foster; John T. Andrishok; Leo C. Hamilton; E. Fredrick Preis; Rachael Jeanfreau; Melissa M. Shirley; Steven B. Loeb; Sunny Mayhall West
  • Law Firm: Breazeale, Sachse & Wilson, L.L.P. - Baton Rouge Office
  • The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a lower court's summary judgement against a wrongful termination claim brought by an African-American University of Arkansas employee. The Eighth Circuit found that the lower court diligently assisted the employee and did not fail to take into account her pro se litigant status. Over the course of the litigation, the court appointed 13 attorneys to her lawsuit. According to the lawsuit, the employee was hired as a program specialist for a community outreach program. During her 90-day probationary period, she received a satisfactory performance review in all but one category. The employee later went to an HR administrator and asked to file a grievance, claiming her coworkers were harassing and taunting her. She also met with her program's director to complain about her supervisor, coworkers and performance review. She also informed the director that she suffered from depression, fibromyalgia and an anxiety disorder and asked about time off to attend a doctor's appointment. The director explained the University's policy that required employees to request leave two weeks in advance and call their supervisor by 7:00 AM on the day of an absence if they were calling in sick. Not long after the discussion with the director, she emailed that she was submitting a formal accommodation request to attend medical appointments, and the next morning a little before 7:00 AM, she emailed the director and her supervisor to let them know she was calling in sick. Later that same day, she wrote to inform them her doctor was requesting she be off work for the next two weeks as reasonable accommodation for her fibromyalgia, and that she would need FMLA leave. When she was told she did not qualify for FMLA leave because she had not been employed for a year or worked the requisite number of hours, she filed an EEOC charge alleging retaliation and race, sex, age, and disability discrimination. She was terminated one week after filing the charge. In lower court proceedings, the employee sued the University board of trustees and moved for appointment of counsel. During the course of litigation, she was appointed 13 attorneys to represent her, but she ultimately proceeded pro se. On appeal, the employee argued the district court had failed to consider her pro se status and "ignore[d] the fact that [she] was without counsel and HAD NOT been provided any opportunity for discovery through her numerous appointed attorneys." The Eighth Circuit reminded the employee that "she ha[d] no constitutional right to counsel in a civil case," and pointed to the 13 attorneys the district court had appointed over the course of litigation.