$423,460 Default Judgment Against Employer in Employment Discrimination Case Reversed By Texas Court Due to Defective Service of Process

Claims involving allegations of Texas employment discrimination can be very complicated when it comes to procedural matters. This is true for both the plaintiff and the defendant. If certain documents are not filed in a timely fashion, the consequences can be very costly. A plaintiff employee who does not file his or her claim within the time allowed by law may forfeit the right to sue. A defendant employer who does not file a timely answer can have a sizable judgment entered against it without having an opportunity to defend itself.

Facts of the Case

The plaintiff in a case recently under consideration by the Court of Appeals for the Eighth District of Texas was a woman who filed an employment discrimination lawsuit against the defendant employer in February 2017. When the plaintiff’s lawsuit was filed, the clerk’s office issued a citation reflecting service by certified mail on the defendant’s registered agent for service of process. Process was served by a private process server, and, according to the process server, delivery was made on March 8, 2017. This was evidenced by the “green card” from the postal service, which the plaintiff filed with the court.

Because the defendant did not file an answer to the plaintiff’s complaint, the plaintiff moved for a default judgment. The trial court granted a default judgment to the plaintiff on the issue of liability in June 2017. In July 2017, a prove-up hearing was held on the issue of damages. Thereafter, the trial court entered a final judgment in the plaintiff’s favor in the amount of $423,460. The court clerk notified the defendant of the judgment by mailing a copy of the court’s order to the defendant’s registered agent for service of process. More than 90 days later, the defendant finally appeared in the case, seeking a new trial. The trial court concluded that it lacked jurisdiction to hear the motion because it was filed outside the extended filing window of Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 306a(4).

The Court’s Ruling

On appeal, the defendant argued that there was error on the face of the record because there were typographical errors in the verification on the return of service, a private process server handled the certified mailing of process, and/or the “green card” signature on the certified mail return form was from a person who was not identified. After considering the arguments of the parties, the court of appeals reversed the default judgment previously entered against the defendant and remanded the case for further proceedings.

In Texas, a domestic corporation may be served through its registered agent, but a return of service by certified mail must contain the return receipt with the addressee’s signature. Under previous Texas case law, there must be a showing of the particular connection between the person signing to accept process and the actual addressee. This was not done in the instant case, and, hence, service was defective. Therefore, the default judgment should not have been entered against the defendant.

Need Legal Advice About an Employment Law Matter?

As this case illustrates, it is critically important to stay on top of procedural matters during litigation. If you need to talk to a knowledgeable Dallas employment discrimination attorney about a claim that your business is facing (or may reasonably be expected to face in the future), Key Harrington Barnes will be glad to help. For an appointment, call us at 214-615-7925. We welcome the opportunity to serve your business’s employment law needs.

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