Texas Appellate Court Affirms Dismissal of Sex Discrimination Lawsuit by TXDOT Employee Who Took State Property

By Key Harrington Barnes, PC

January 18, 2019

There are a seemingly endless array of situations that can lead to a Dallas employment discrimination lawsuit, some of which have merit but many of which do not. There are, after all, many legitimate reasons why an employee may be fired or the subject of an adverse employment decision.

Most people would probably agree that appropriating an employer’s property for one’s personal use would fall into the “legitimate reason to fire” category, but a worker terminated by the Texas Department of Transportation filed a lawsuit complaining that, although she did violate the department’s policy by taking state property, she was the victim of sex discrimination because male coworkers who did something similar were not fired.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was an employee of the defendant transportation department for some 10 years before she was terminated in 2010. She filed suit against the department and her former supervisor, alleging that she had been unlawfully discharged based on her sex. The department maintained that the plaintiff had been fired for removing scrap metal and other materials from the trash for her personal use. According to the plaintiff, two male employees engaged in similar conduct but were not fired.

The defendants filed a combined plea to the jurisdiction and motion for summary judgment, alleging that the plaintiff had exhausted her administrative remedies only on her sexual-discrimination claim and not on the disparate pay and disparate treatment claims (which she added via amendments to her original pleading).

The District Court for Tyler County, Texas, dismissed the plaintiff’s case, and she appealed.

Decision of the Court

The plaintiff urged the Court of Appeals for the Ninth District of Texas to reverse the lower tribunal’s ruling, arguing that genuine issues of material fact prevented the dismissal of her case without giving her the benefit of a trial, but the appellate court disagreed and affirmed the granting of the defendants’ motion. In so holding, the court noted that, although there were male employees who committed similar acts to those for which the plaintiff was terminated, those employees were dissimilar in that two of them had a different supervisor and there was a lack of evidence as to the alleged misconduct of another. The court also pointed out that an employer is not liable for terminating an employee when there is a legitimate, nondiscriminatory, non-retaliatory reason such as violating a written policy prohibiting employees like the plaintiff from taking property for personal use.

As to the employee’s disparate treatment claims, the plaintiff insisted that, had the defendant department adequately investigated her complaint, it would have learned the facts surrounding all of her claims, but she admitted that she checked only a single box on her discrimination claim form with the Texas Workforce Commission. Thus, the court concluded that the plaintiff had failed to exhaust her administrative remedies on all but her sexual discrimination termination claim.

Call a Dallas Employment Law Attorney

Facing a potential discrimination claim can be stressful and time consuming for a Dallas business. If you have questions about ways to defend against a charge brought by a current or former employee, call 214-615-7925 to schedule an appointment with one of Key Harrington Barnes’ experienced Dallas employment discrimination defense attorneys.

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