Since Texas is an “employment at-will” state, generally employees can be fired for good cause, no cause, or even bad cause – as long as the “cause” is not illegal under state or federal law (such as age or race discrimination). Still, it is not unusual for a retaliatory discharge claim to be filed against an employer that acted legally. If your business has found itself in this situation, you should talk to a qualified Dallas employment defense attorney as soon as possible.
Facts of the Case
In a case recently reviewed by the Court of Appeals for the Fifth District of Texas at Dallas, the plaintiff was a former employee of a convenience store. She complained that the defendant store had engaged in a retaliatory discharge when it fired her after some 25 years of employment (for 23 years of which she had worked as a store manager). According to the plaintiff, the termination of her employment was a direct result of her reporting an instance of sexual harassment involving a subordinate employee (who claimed to have been sexually harassed by a male store manager).
The defendant averred that the plaintiff’s termination was due to her failure to correct certain performance concerns that had been brought to her attention some time prior to the sexual harassment incident. The trial court granted summary judgment to the defendant but denied its request for attorney’s fees. The plaintiff appealed.
The Appellate Court’s Holding
The court of appeals affirmed both the trial court’s granting of summary judgment to the defendant and its denial of the defendant’s request for attorney’s fees. Under Texas law, a retaliatory discharge claimant must prove three things in order to meet his or her burden of making out the prima facie case of retaliation necessary to survive a summary judgment motion by the defendant: that he or she engaged in a protected activity; that an adverse employment action happened; and that there was a causal connection between the activity and the employment decision.
The plaintiff argued that she had engaged in two protected activities – forwarding her underling’s complaint of sexual harassment and shaking her head during a meeting during the investigation of the alleged harassment. The court of appeals agreed with the defendant, however, that the plaintiff’s reporting of the alleged harassment was a ministerial task required by her supervisory position. With regard to her “head-shaking,” the plaintiff’s conduct showed her opposition to the harassment rather than the defendant’s response to it. This failed to show any unlawful employment practice by the defendant, as required under the Texas Labor Code.
The appellate court agreed with the plaintiff that she should not be ordered to pay the defendant’s attorney’s fees, even though her claim was ultimately dismissed. Since the plaintiff had attempted to distinguish her case from prior, opposing case law and had argued for an extension of federal law, the court of appeals found no abuse of discretion in the lower tribunal’s decision not to award attorney’s fees in the case.
Need to Talk to a Dallas Employment Litigation Attorney?
If your business has been sued by a disgruntled employee or former employee following an incident of alleged sexual harassment, you need an experienced wrongful termination attorney in your corner. To schedule an appointment to discuss your case, contact Key Harrington Barnes at 214-615-7925. Do not delay in speaking to an attorney about your situation, since it takes time to conduct a thorough investigation and formulate an effective defense. As with other legal matters, time is of the essence, and a delay could result in adverse consequences.
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