14th District Court of Appeals holds all elements of a circumstantial-evidence retaliation claim (including pretext) are jurisdictional, plus court lacked jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s discrimination claim
Margaret Fields v. Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., 14-19-00010-CV (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] Oct. 15, 2020)
This is an employment discrimination and retaliation case where the Houston Court of Appeals (14th Dist.) affirmed the granting of the school district’s plea to the jurisdiction.
Fields enrolled as a teacher intern in the Houston Independent School District (“HISD”) alternative-certification program as a means of becoming a full-time teacher for HISD. An alternative-certification committee served as the final decision-making authority. It reviewed and evaluated Fields, who had difficulty with performance. After exhausting several performance enhancement plans, the committee dismissed Fields from the program. After receiving her right to sue letter, Fields sued for discrimination and later retaliation. HISD filed a plea to the jurisdiction, which was granted. Fields appealed.
The Fourteenth Court of Appeals first held Fields’ retaliation charge was factually related to her discrimination charge. Therefore, even though Fields did not file or amend her discrimination charge to include retaliation, she was not required to in order to bring suit. Next, the court recognized NISD presented evidence of legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for the discharge, which Fields was unable to rebut to establish pretext under her discrimination charge. Fields then argued her retaliation charge should stand because she is not required to establish pretext as a jurisdictional requirement because the jurisdictional requirement applies only to a prima facie case. The court disagreed. When an employer presents jurisdictional evidence rebutting the prima facie case, the presumption of retaliation disappears. The employee must present sufficient evidence of pretext to survive a plea to the jurisdiction. All elements of a circumstantial-evidence retaliation claim are jurisdictional. Because Fields failed to present any evidence of pretext on the part of HISD, she failed to establish a waiver of immunity. As a result, the plea was properly granted.
If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consisted of Justices Tracy Christopher, Ken Wise, and Jerry Zimmerer. Opinion by Justice Jerry Zimmerer.