Dallas Court of Appeals Sides with Defendant on Multiple Issues in Affirming Dismissal of Employment Discrimination Suit

As in areas of the law, there are strict procedures that must be followed by those who seek legal redress for an alleged act of Dallas employment discrimination.

Failure to abide by the appropriate procedural rules can, and frequently does, result in dismissal of a case brought by a disgruntled employee or former employee. In a case decided last month, a worker’s employment discrimination lawsuit was dismissed because (among other reasons) she failed to sue a defendant that had the legal capacity to be named as a party in such a case.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case considered by the Court of Appeals for the Fifth District of Texas at Dallas, the plaintiff was a former employee of the defendant city attorney’s office. In 2016, she filed a complaint with the Texas Workforce Commission, alleging a claim of employment discrimination against the defendant. The Commission was unable to conclude that a statutory violation had occurred but advised the plaintiff that she had until December 25, 2016, to file a formal lawsuit against the defendant. The plaintiff filed suit on December 8, 2016, but she did not identify a person to be served.

The plaintiff later amended her complaint, adding the city attorney and mayor as persons upon whom service of process could be made. Both were served on January 6, 2017. However, the trial court went on to enter summary judgment for the defendant on multiple grounds. The plaintiff filed a motion to reinstate her case and for a new trial, but both were denied.

The Court of Appeals’ Decision

The plaintiff argued on appeal that the trial court had erred in denying her motion for a new trial, reinstatement, and/or for a modification, but the appellate court disagreed and affirmed the trial court’s award of summary judgment to the defendant. The court began its analysis by noting that, while the plaintiff had failed to respond to the defendant’s motion for summary judgment in the court below, her attorney had offered an explanation that suggested that this failure was the result of an accident or mistake rather than conscious indifference.

However, the court of appeals went on to hold that, even if there was an acceptable excuse for the plaintiff’s failure to respond to the defendant’s motion for summary judgment in the court below, she had still failed to set up a meritorious defense to the defendant’s motion for summary judgment on appeal because the defendant was correct in its contention that it, as a mere non-jural entity of the City of Dallas, it lacked the legal capacity to be sued.

The court also pointed out that, by failing to even allege in her motion for a new trial that granting a new trial would not injure the defendant (and perhaps offering to pay the defendant’s legal fees for obtaining the first judgment), the plaintiff had failed in her attempt to show that the trial court had abused its discretion in refusing to grant her a new trial. The court of appeals also sided with the defendant on the issues of whether the trial court should have granted the plaintiff’s motion to reinstate or to modify its judgment against her; in so holding, the court noted that a motion to reinstate was not appropriate in this case (such motions apply to dismissals for want of prosecution, not summary judgments), and the plaintiff’s motion to modify was untimely (it was made 69 days after the judgment when it should have been made within 30 days).

Experienced Legal Representation in Dallas

A prompt and assertive defense to a Dallas employment discrimination claim can be very important to a swift resolution of the issues. If your business has been accused of wrongdoing by a current or former employee, you should speak to legal counsel immediately. To schedule a consultation with a member of the Key Harrington Barnes employment litigation team, call us at 214-615-7925, and we will be glad to set up a meeting in our Dallas offices to discuss the claim(s) against you or your business and begin to formulate the most effective defense possible under the circumstances giving rise to the allegations.

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