Texas Appeals Court Grants Plea to the Jurisdiction in Employment Case Filed by Former College Basketball Coach

While most litigants file suit with the idea of having their day in court, most lawsuits, including those asserting claims under Texas employment law, never reach the trial-by-jury phase. The fact is that many cases are eventually settled between the respective parties, sometimes confidentially, and countless others are often resolved in another manner – dismissal by the court prior to trial. Thus, pre-trial proceedings can be very important – at least as important as what happens at trial and perhaps even more so in some cases.

Facts of the Case

In a recent appellate case arising in the Judicial District Court of Waller County and heard on appeal by the Texas Court of Appeals for the Fourteenth Court of Appeals, the plaintiff was the head coach for a women’s college basketball team. In 2015, the plaintiff removed two female student athletes from the team because they were dating one another. The college’s Title IX coordinator found that the plaintiff had violated XI by implementing and enforcing a team rule against players dating, and the plaintiff was subsequently fired for cause.

Thereafter, the plaintiff filed suit against the college and its athletic director, asserting claims for breach of contract, defamation, and tortious interference. The athletic director was named in both his individual and official capacities in the suit. The defendants filed a plea to the jurisdiction, asking the trial court to dismiss the plaintiff’s claims, with prejudice, based on governmental immunity and the election-of-remedies rule. The plaintiff then filed an amended petition, asserting only her defamation claim and her tortious interference claim; these claims were brought only against the athletic director in his individual capacity. The plaintiff then filed a motion for a voluntary nonsuit against the college and against the athletic director in his official capacity.

The trial court granted a nonsuit only as to the plaintiff’s breach of contract claim against the college, granting the defendants’ plea to the jurisdiction and dismissing the plaintiffs’ remaining claims with prejudice.

The Appellate Court’s Decision in the Case

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that the trial court erred in granting the defendants’ plea to the jurisdiction because she had “solely asserted the tort claims against [the athletic director] individually” and those statements were not made in the performance of his duties for the college. The court of appeals disagreed with this argument and affirmed the trial court’s order granting the defendants’ plea to the jurisdiction and dismissing the plaintiff’s claims with prejudice.

The court first noted that the Texas Tort Claims Act provides only a limited waiver of immunity from suit. Under the Act, liability exists only for certain tort claims against a governmental unit.¬†According to the court, the athletic director’s actions were connected to his job duties, and, because the complained-of conduct was within the scope of his employment, the plaintiff’s claims against him were to be considered to be in his official capacity only. Under the Act’s election-of remedies, the athletic director was entitled to dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims.

Defense Counsel for Dallas Employment Law Claims

Key Harrington Barnes represents Dallas employers in a variety of employment law cases. To schedule an appointment to find out more about our services, call us at 214-615-7925.

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