The First Court of Appeals held employment discrimination claims cannot be brought under the TCHRA in state court where the same claims were previously dismissed in federal court.
Special contributing author Laura Mueller, City Attorney for Dripping Springs
Suran Wije v. David A. Burns and Univ. of Texas, No. 01-19-00024-CV (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] September 3, 2020) (mem. op.).
In this employment discrimination claim, the plaintiff sued a University official and the University for discrimination after he was unable to be re-employed by the University. The Court of Appeals held that the University retained its immunity.
The plaintiff was an employee at the University from 2000-2005. While there he made complaints regarding IT issues to his boss. Years after resigning from the University in 2005, the plaintiff attempted to get a new position at the University but was unsuccessful. The plaintiff found out he had been “blacklisted.” He sued the University in federal court after receiving a right to sue letter from the EEOC. The plaintiff alleged that he was being discriminated against by the University and that his personnel file had misinformation in it. The federal court dismissed his claims with prejudice and so he filed his claims in state court. The claims included TCHRA claims, a 1983 claim, fraud, defamation, and negligence claims under the Texas Tort Claims Act. The trial court granted the University’s plea to the jurisdiction and the plaintiff appealed.
The State and state agencies, like the University, retain their immunity from federal sec. 1983 claims. Moore v. La. Bd. of Elementary & Secondary Educ., 743 F.3d 959, 963 (5th Cir. 2014). University officials also retain immunity. The TCHRA contains an election of remedies and disallows suits under the TCHRA if the claims involved have already been adjudicated by a different court. Tex. Labor Code § 21.211; City of Waco v. Lopez, 259 S.W.3d 147, 155 (Tex. 2008). The Texas Tort Claims Act claims must be negligence claims that cause injury to a person or damage to property under its narrow waiver and does not allow for intentional tort claims. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ch. 101. The Court of Appeals held that the University’s immunity had not been waived for any of the claims because: (1) they retain immunity for sec. 1983 claims; (2) his TCHRA claims were barred because they had already been brought to another court; and (3) neither his negligence or intentional tort claims met the requirements of the Texas Tort Claims Act.
If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Justices Goodman, Landau, and Hightower. Opinion by Justice Richard Hightower.