Texas Appeals Court Dismisses Former Teacher’s Disability Discrimination Lawsuit, Saying School District Had Legitimate Reason for Termination

While it is wrongful under certain state and federal laws to engage in discrimination against a person who is disabled, not every Dallas disability discrimination lawsuit against a disabled person’s employer is well-founded. In some cases, the employer may have a legitimate, non-disability-related reason for the termination (or other adverse employment action). If the employee disagrees, it is up to the court to decide which party has made the more convincing case as to the “real” reason for the firing.

Facts of the Case

In a case recently considered by the Court of Appeals for the Thirteenth District of Texas, the plaintiff was a teacher who was terminated at the end of his first year of teaching. He filed suit against the defendant school district, alleging that it had wrongfully terminated him due to a disability that he suffered after having a stroke about mid-way through the school year. (Previously, the plaintiff had filed a timely charge of discrimination with the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division, which granted him a right-to-sue letter.)

The defendant filed a plea to the jurisdiction of the trial court, which the trial court denied. The defendant appealed.

The Court of Appeals’ Decision

On appeal, the defendant raised just one issue: whether the trial court had jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s claims. According to the defendant, the plaintiff had failed to produce the necessary evidence to create a factual issue as to the prima facie elements of his claim, thus depriving the trial court of jurisdiction over the matter. After considering the arguments of the parties, the appeals court reversed the trial court’s order denying the plea to the jurisdiction and rendered judgment dismissing the plaintiff’s claim for lack of jurisdiction

In order to prove a case of disability discrimination, the employee must be able to prove three elements: first, that he or she actually had a disability; second, that he or she was qualified for the job in question; and third, that he or she suffered an adverse employment decision on account of his or her disability. According to the court of appeals, the parties agreed on appeal that the plaintiff was disabled, but they disagreed as to whether he was qualified for the job and/or whether there was a causal relationship between his termination and his disability.

The defendant argued – and the appellate court agreed – that the defendant had produced evidence to support a non-discriminatory reason for the plaintiff’s termination, namely  the plaintiff’s alleged misconduct with multiple students a couple of weeks before he suffered his stroke. This misconduct included “unwanted attention and hugging” of a female student. Because the defendant had articulated a legitimate reason for the plaintiff’s termination – and the plaintiff had failed to produce evidence sufficient to raise a factual issue as to the defendant’s true motive for the termination – the court of appeals found that dismissal of the plaintiff’s case was appropriate.

Have Questions for a Dallas Employment Law Attorney?

At Key Harrington Barnes, our experienced Dallas discrimination attorneys are here to help your business defend itself against allegations of discrimination based on disability, age, gender, or other protected status. For an appointment to learn more about how we can help, call us now at 214-615-7925.

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