Ex-employee must pay attorney’s fees for frivolous discrimination claims; no adverse employment action occurred and law is clear supervisors are not liable

Tammy Anderson v. Houston Community College System, 01-14-00062-CV (Tex. App. – Houston [1st Dist.], January 13, 2015)

This is a discrimination/retaliation case under the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (“TCHRA”) where the court of appeals affirmed the granting of MSJs for the employer and awarded attorney’s fees against the Plaintiff.

Anderson, an African-American woman, was an office manager for the Houston Community College System (“College”) with the Dean of the Workforce Development Division as her boss. The Dean, Bradford, was also an African-American woman. Anderson received a review from Bradford she did not agree with. When she complaint, Bradford allegedly “publically chastised” her. Bradford also allegedly grabbed her on occasion and a rough manner and made negative comments about her weight. Bradford also allegedly made only one racial slur towards Anderson. Anderson filed a complaint with the College alleging discriminatory treatment and harassment. Prior to completion of the College’s review, she filed a complaint with the EEOC. After the complaint, Bradford was placed on an employee correction plan. The College reassigned Anderson to work under a separate supervisor. The EEOC did not make a finding and simply provided Anderson a right-to-sue letter. After her original petition was filed against both the College and Bradford, the College filed a combined plea to the jurisdiction, no-evidence motion for summary judgment, and traditional summary judgment. Bradford, individually, did the same. The trial court granted all dispositive motions and ordered Anderson to pay Bradford $42,523.33 in attorney’s fees. Anderson appealed.

After going through the burden shifting standards for discrimination claims, the court held the TCHRA only deals with ultimate employment decisions, not every minor decision made by an employer. Adverse employment actions do not include disciplinary filings, supervisor’s reprimands, poor performance reviews, hostility from fellow employees, verbal threats to fire, criticism of the employee’s work, or negative employment evaluations.  Anderson was not able to produce any evidence of an adverse employment action, let alone one which could be tied to the one racial slur used by Bradford. Anderson asserted she applied for other positions and was not hired. However, she admitted she did not know who was hired or the race or gender so could not establish a comparator. At her current job the uncontroverted evidence established she received raises and her benefits never decreased. Her discrimination claims were properly dismissed. As to her hostile work environment claim, Anderson admitted in her deposition the conduct did not affect her work performance. To win on such a claim she must have produced evidence of actions which were so “sufficiently severe or pervasive that it has altered the conditions of employment and created an abusive working environment.”  Anderson was unable to do so and the trial court properly dismissed such claims. Anderson was not able to identify a specific protected activity to trigger TCHRA retaliation protection. She was also unable to present any evidence her internal complaint to the College or EEOC formed the basis of an adverse employment action. Finally, individual supervisors cannot be held personally liable under the TCHRA as Bradford was not her “employer.” Bradford was properly dismissed. And since the law on individual liability of supervisors is well established, Anderson’s claims were properly designated as frivolous. It was proper to award Bradford attorney’s fees. The trial court’s dismissals and awards are affirmed.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel: Justice Keyes, Justice Higley and Justice Brown. Opinion by Justice Keyes. The attorneys listed for the College are Stephanie Maher and Paul A. Lamp.  The attorney for Anderson is Charles Adren Caldwell II.  The attorneys listed for the individual defendant Bradford are Virginia Mixon Swindell and Teresa Slowen Valderrama.