Retaliatory Discharge Claim Dismissed on Summary Judgment, Decision Upheld by Texas Court of Appeals

In a Dallas employment discrimination retaliation lawsuit, the plaintiff must be able to prove several things in order to prevail at trial: that the plaintiff engaged in a protected activity, that he or she suffered an adverse employment action, and that there was a causal connection between the protected activity and the adverse action.

If the plaintiff cannot provide admissible evidence as to any of these elements, he or she cannot prevail against the employer.

It is not unusual for an argument to arise, pre-trial, as to whether such evidence exists. As a consequence, many retaliatory discharge claims are decided on summary judgment, rather than at trial.

Facts of the Case

In a recent appellate case heard by the Court of Appeals for the First District of Texas, the plaintiff was 56-year-old black man who sought relief from the defendant hospitality management company for alleged retaliation in violation of the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act. According to the plaintiff’s complaint, the plaintiff was the victim of harassment by Mexican-American and white employees of the defendant and he was ultimately terminated from his employment due to his complaints about this harassment.

The defendant filed an answer generally denying the allegations of the plaintiff’s complaint and asserting additional defenses. Thereafter, the defendant sought summary judgment on both no-evidence and matter-of-law grounds. The trial court granted the defendant’s motion, and the plaintiff appealed.

The Outcome of the Case

After reviewing the trial court’s summary judgment decision de novo, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s order in favor of the defendant. To prevail on a no-evidence motion for summary judgment, the movant has to establish that there is no evidence to support at least one of the required elements of the non-moving party’s claim. Once this is done, the burden then shifts to the non-moving party to present evidence raising a genuine issue of material fact as to each challenged element upon which he or she bears the burden of proof. In order to survive a no-evidence motion for summary judgment, the non-moving party has to bring forth more than a mere “scintilla” of evidence; rather, the evidence offered must rise to a level that would enable reasonable people who are fair-minded to possibly reach differing conclusions. To prevail on a matter-of-law motion for summary judgment, the moving party must establish that there are no genuine issues of material fact and that, therefore, he or she is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Here, the court of appeals found that there was no evidence that the plaintiff’s complaints about the alleged harassing behavior constituted complaints about race or age discrimination. In the court’s view, the allegedly harassing behavior was in the form of a personal grievance (because the plaintiff – not the person who made the statements about which the plaintiff complained – got a certain job) rather than a complaint resulting from illegal discrimination. Because there was no evidence that the plaintiff engaged in a protected activity, he failed to make a prima facie case for retaliation.

Dallas Employment Law Attorneys Defending Area Employers

If your business has been accused of retaliatory discharge, you need an experienced Dallas employment discrimination attorney in your corner as soon as possible. For an appointment to discuss a claim that is currently pending against your company, call Key Harrington Barnes at 214-615-7925.

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