Employee’s retaliation claim dismissed since she became ineligible for her position due to a lapse in nursing license

University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center v. Kimberly A. Saunders, 05-15-01543-CV (Tex. App—Dallas, July 13,2016)

This is an employment dispute where the Dallas Court of Appeals rendered judgment for the University based on a plea to the jurisdiction.

Saunders was injured on the job while employed by UTSW as a registered nurse. UTSW offered Saunders a position reassignment, which she accepted. However, Saunders filed a complaint of disability discrimination with the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) and the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) based on UTSW’s alleged failure to make a reasonable accommodation for Saunders’s new disability. After completing the administrative process, Saunders filed a lawsuit against UTSW alleging disability discrimination. Sanders was later terminated due to a lapse in her nursing license, but she amended her suit to include retaliatory discharge. UTSW filed a plea to the jurisdiction on Saunders’s claims. UTSW appeals the trial court’s order denying its plea to the jurisdiction on Saunders’s retaliatory discharge claim, and Saunders appeals the trial court’s order granting UTSW’s plea to the jurisdiction on her disability discrimination claim.

With regards to the retaliatory discharge claim, a plaintiff must establish that, in the absence of her protected activity, the employer’s prohibited conduct would not have occurred when it did. Saunders’s employment at UTSW was terminated because her nursing license had lapsed making her ineligible to continue in her nursing position.  She provided no evidence to establish a causal link between her discharge and her discrimination claim or lawsuit against UTSW or to dispute the termination was for the lapse in license. There is also no evidence the supervisor who made the termination decision had knowledge of Saunders’ lawsuit. The plea should have been granted.  As to the disability discrimination claim, UTSW asserted the claim is time-barred because she did not file her complaint with the TWC and EEOC until more than 180 days after she accepted reassignment. The continuing violation doctrine relieves a plaintiff from establishing that all of the alleged discriminatory conduct occurred within the actionable period if the plaintiff can show that, in addition to acts that otherwise would be time-barred, the conduct continued into the actionable period. The doctrine applies when an unlawful employment practice manifests itself over time, rather than as a series of discrete acts. However, Saunders only points to her reassignment (a single discrete act) as the violation. And, it is undisputed she filed her complaint outside the time period. Therefore, the plea was properly granted.

If you would like to read this opinion click here . Panel includes Justice Francis, Justice Fillmore, and Justice Schenck. Justice Fillmore delivered the opinion. Attorney for Appellant: Michael Patterson Attorney for Appellee: David B. Joeckel Jr.