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Huff v. Winston

Supreme Court of Virginia

September 8, 2016

PAMELA ENNIS HUFF
v.
MICHAEL G. WINSTON, SHERIFF, IN HIS OFFICIAL CAPACITY

         FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF ROANOKE COUNTY David B. Carson, Judge

          PRESENT: Lemons, C.J., Goodwyn, Mims, McClanahan, Powell, and Kelsey, JJ., and Russell, S.J.

          OPINION

          WILLIAM C. MIMS JUSTICE.

         In this appeal, we consider the circumstances under which the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, 38 U.S.C. §§ 4301-4333 ("USERRA"), provides for a two-year convalescence period. We also consider whether 38 U.S.C. §§ 4312 and 4313 apply to claims based on an employer's conduct after reemployment.

         I. BACKGROUND AND MATERIAL PROCEEDINGS BELOW

         A. Factual Background

         Pamela Ennis Huff ("Huff") was initially hired by the Roanoke County Sheriff's Office (the "Sheriff") in November 2001 as a Deputy Sheriff. At the time, she was also a member of the United States Army Reserve.

         In December 2009, Huff was serving as a Deputy Sheriff Bailiff when she was called to active duty and deployed to Afghanistan.[1] During her tour of duty, Huff suffered a broken nose, injuries to her hip and spine, and a concussion, which resulted in a traumatic brain injury. In April 2011, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder ("PTSD") and major depressive disorder.

         Huff returned from Afghanistan in May 2011, and she was discharged from active duty shortly thereafter. Upon her return, she contacted the Sheriff regarding reemployment. In July 2011, the Sheriff rehired Huff as a Deputy Sheriff Bailiff.

         Despite treatment at the Salem VA Medical Center, Huff continued to suffer from PTSD and depression-related symptoms during her employment. After certain incidents came to the Sheriff's attention, Huff was twice required to undergo "Fitness for Duty Evaluations." The Sheriff deemed Huff fit for duty on both occasions.

         In August 2011, Huff requested unpaid leave on Fridays due to ongoing counseling sessions that were scheduled for Thursday evenings. The Sheriff advised her that he could not provide leave on every Friday if she remained in the court services division. Instead, he offered to transfer her from court services to corrections to provide the office with greater scheduling flexibility. Huff considered the transfer a demotion, and declined to accept it. The Sheriff then indicated that she could take up to thirty days unpaid administrative leave to seek counseling and treatment. Beginning in late November 2011, Huff took thirty days leave pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act.

         Upon her return, Huff was authorized by her treating physician to work on a full-time, "light duty" basis through April 1, 2012. She began working in this capacity, and later submitted a request to remain on full-time, light duty through June 2012. However, in March 2012, Huff suffered a heart attack, which was deemed "service related" by her treating physician. After her heart attack, Huff went on disability leave.

         Huff's physician subsequently cleared her to return to work on a part-time, "full duty" basis from October 22, 2012 to January 21, 2013. Three days later, the Sheriff terminated her employment due to her inability to return to work in a full-time capacity.

         B. Procedural Background

         Huff filed a complaint in the Circuit Court of Roanoke County, asserting four counts against the Sheriff. In relevant part, the complaint alleged that (1) the Sheriff failed to properly reemploy Huff and failed to make reasonable efforts to accommodate her disability in violation of 38 U.S.C. § 4313, and (2) the Sheriff was required to allow Huff a two-year convalescence period before terminating her employment pursuant to 38 U.S.C. § 4312.[2]

         The parties submitted competing motions for summary judgment on the above counts. Relying on Francis v. Booz, Allen & Hamilton, Inc., 452 F.3d 299 (4th Cir. 2006), the circuit court ruled that Sections 4312 and 4313 apply only until the moment of reemployment. Because the Sheriff rehired Huff in the same position that she had left during her deployment, the circuit court found these provisions were inapplicable to her claims. Accordingly, the court granted the Sheriff's motion for summary judgment.

         The case proceeded to trial on the two remaining counts.[3] After Huff presented her evidence, the court granted the Sheriff's motion to strike the first count, while taking the Sheriff's motion to strike the remaining count under advisement. After the Sheriff presented his case, the jury returned a defense verdict on the remaining count.

         Huff appeals only the circuit court's decision to grant the Sheriff's motion for summary judgment.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Standard of Review

         "In an appeal from a circuit court's decision to grant or deny summary judgment, this Court reviews the application of law to undisputed facts de novo." St. Joe Co. v. Norfolk Redev. & Hous. Auth., 283 Va. 403, 407, 722 S.E.2d 622, 625 (2012). This appeal also presents questions of statutory interpretation, which the Court reviews de novo. Conye ...


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