Texas Court Says Political Subdivision Enjoys Immunity from Workers’ Compensation Retaliation Claim

Under Texas employment law, it is generally unlawful to discriminate or retaliate against an employee who has filed a workers’ compensation lawsuit in good faith. However, not every employee has a remedy, if this law is violated.

Facts of the Case

In a recent appellate case arising from litigation brought by the plaintiff, a former bus driver, against the defendant city transit service in the 160th Judicial District Court for Dallas County, Texas, the main issue on appeal was the propriety of the trial court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s workers’ compensation retaliation claim on the basis that the court lacked jurisdiction due to governmental immunity.

The plaintiff’s suit, which was filed about two years after he was fired by the defendant, claimed that he was harassed, discriminated against, and ultimately fired because he had, in good faith, filed a workers’ compensation claim and hired an attorney to represent him in regards to the matter. He also asserted a claim for race discrimination, but that claim was severed, thus making the trial court’s dismissal of his retaliation claim under Texas Labor Code Ann. § 451.001 on jurisdictional grounds final and appealable.

Decision of the Court

The Court of Appeals for the Fifth District of Texas at Dallas affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of the plaintiff’s workers’ compensation retaliation claim, finding that it was bound by controlling supreme court precedent. While the plaintiff argued that, under the circumstances, there had been a clear and unambiguous waiver of governmental immunity for claims such as his, the court did not agree. Like the state supreme court in the case of Travis Central Appraisal District v. Norman, 342 S.W.3d 54 (Tex. 2011), the court of appeals viewed the applicable laws as “too internally inconsistent” to meet the “clear and unambiguous” standard.

According to the court of appeals, the only thing that was actually clear and unambiguous was that immunity from suit in Chapter 451 actions has been waived, at least to an extent, for first responder employees of political subdivisions. The court acknowledged that employees of state agencies had the full protection of the Anti-Retaliation Act but noted that this was not necessarily the case for employees of political subdivisions like the defendant herein. In so holding, the court acknowledged its puzzlement as to why state employees were afforded protection by the law and most employees of political subdivisions were not. Likewise, the court noted that there was no explanation in the statutory law as to why first responders were to be treated differently from other employees, (such as the former bus driver plaintiff) but left the resolution of such seeming inconsistencies to the legislature.

Dallas Employment Law Attorneys Defending Businesses

The laws pertaining to the employer-employee relationship are ever-changing and evolving. Sometimes, these changes are clear, and everyone can agree on what needs to be done in a given situation. More often, however, there is confusion, ambiguity, and potential disagreement, as the case discussed above illustrates. At Key Harrington Barnes, our Dallas employee relations attorneys work hard to stay up-to-date on all of the latest developments in this area of the law. To schedule a consultation to discuss a matter of concern to you or your business, call us at 214-615-7925. We look forward to hearing from you.

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