Misconduct, Not Discrimination or Retaliation, Was Reason for Worker’s Termination, Per Texas Court of Appeals

Almost all Texas employment discrimination lawsuits have two very different and distinct sides to them. Typically, the employee makes allegations to the effect that the reason he or she was fired (or not hired, not promoted, etc.) was due to an unlawful reason such as age, gender, or disability discrimination. The employer, on the other hand, may offer proof of a legitimate reason for its actions, such as misconduct by the worker.

Ultimately, it is up to trial court to decide which side of the case to believe. There is also the possibility of appellate review, should either party opt to file an appeal contesting the trial court’s decision.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a former employee of the defendant state agency. After being terminated on October 2, 2015, on the grounds that she had violated company policies by 1) accessing a particular individual’s case without a valid business reason and 2) by using an aid recipient’s “Lone Star Card”¬†without authority. At the time of her termination, the plaintiff had already filed multiple complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regarding alleged disability discrimination and retaliation pertaining to the defendant’s failure to hire her for certain other positions. Four days after being fired, she filed an additional charge with the EEOC,¬†alleging additional disability discrimination and retaliation based on being on certain paperwork that she had submitted in regards to the Family Medical Leave Act, as well as her termination for employee misconduct.

The EEOC dismissed all of the plaintiff’s charges, stating that it was unable to conclude, after investigation, that there was any statutory violation. The plaintiff then filed suit, and defendant filed a plea to the jurisdiction asserting sovereign immunity. The trial court granted the plea and dismissed the plaintiff’s claims. She appealed.

The Court’s Ruling in the Case

The court of appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. In so holding, the court found that the defendant had produced evidence of legitimate, nondiscriminatory reasons for its failure to hire the plaintiff for certain positions for which she had applied, as well as for terminating her from her employment. The plaintiff, in response, had failed to meet her burden of producing evidence that the defendant’s stated reasons for its actions were false and only a pretext for discrimination and/or retaliation.

While the court noted that the plaintiff had a subjective belief that the defendant’s stated reasons for its employment decisions regarding her were merely pretextual, in reality there were no genuine factual issues as to whether the plaintiff would have not have been terminated but for her internal complaint and EEOC charge. In so holding, the court noted that the plaintiff’s own mother had reported to the defendant that the plaintiff had improperly certified her daughter for pregnancy benefits and that she was improperly using her nephew’s Lone Star Card.

Retain Counsel in a Dallas Discrimination Lawsuit

If your business has been accused of unlawful employment discrimination or retaliatory discharge, you need to talk to an experienced Dallas discrimination defense attorney as quickly as possible. To schedule an appointment to discuss your case with a member of the Key Harrington Barnes employment litigation team, call us at 214-615-7925. We appreciate the opportunity to be of service to you and your company during this difficult situation.

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