Three years between protected activity and failure to renew contract was too long to establish a causal connection in retaliation case.

Latasha Rose v. Houston Independent School District 14-16-00687-CV (Tex.App—Houston [Dist. 14] October 19, 2017)

This is a retaliation in employment case where the 14th District Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of the Plaintiff’s claims.

Rose was the Magnet Coordinator at HISD’s High School for Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice (“HSLECJ”). At the beginning of the school year, Rose received an email from the school’s principal stating that the school was denying admission to a student with disabilities. Rose forwarded the email to the student’s mother. Five weeks later, HISD transferred Rose to a different high school. Rose filed an EEOC charge for retaliation. HISD eliminated Rose’s position as part of a districtwide reduction in force (“RIF”) and therefore did not renew Rose’s one-year contract. Rose did not seek judicial review of the Commissioner’s decision which upheld the RIF. Rose instead filed a separate civil suit against HISD, which was dismissed. Rose filed another charge of discrimination with the EEOC which became the present lawsuit. HISD filed a combined plea to the jurisdiction which the trial court granted. Rose appealed.

Rose presents no direct evidence that HISD retaliated against her. Thus, to avoid dismissal on HISD’s jurisdictional plea, Rose was required to present circumstantial evidence establishing a prima facie case of retaliation. “The crucial element of a charge of discrimination [or retaliation] is the factual statement contained” in the administrative complaint. The charge must contain an adequate factual basis so that it puts the employer on notice of the existence and nature of the charges.  The court first determined TCHRA’s anti-retaliation provision applies to an employer’s decision to not hire a prospective employee. It speaks in terms of “a person” not an employee. However, the Labor Code indicates that an employer’s alleged decision to hire someone other than the complainant does not constitute an unlawful employment practice. Nothing in the record indicates HISD deviated from its customary practices or utilized the RIF improperly. Critically, the years-long span between her 2010 protected activity and HISD’s failure to hire Rose in November 2013 “is too long to establish that there was a causal connection.” As to Rose’s constitutional claims, she was unable to establish a protected property or liberty interest as she had not continuing contract. As a result, her claims were properly dismissed.

If you want to read this opinion click here. The panel consists of Justice Boyce, Justice Donavan and  Justice Jewell. Justice Kevin Jewell delivered the opinion of the court. To see the docket page listing attorneys click here.

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