DID THE LAWSUIT BELONG IN STATE OR FEDERAL COURT?
Case citation: Hicksv. Austin ISD, Fed. Appx. , 2014 WL 1591024 (5th Cir. 2014) (unpublished).
Summary: Katrina Hicks filed suit in Texas state court against Austin Independent School District alleging discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Texas Labor Code and the First Amendment. On November 15, 2012, the school district had the case moved to federal court because the First Amendment claim fell under federal law. Less than a month later, on December 10, 2012, Hicks moved to dismiss her First Amendment claim and to remand the remaining state-law claims to state court. The trial court ultimately granted Hicks’s unopposed motion to dismiss her First Amendment claim and granted Hicks’s request to return the case to state court. The district appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Ruling: The Fifth Circuit affirmed the trial court decision. The district argued that the trial court abused its discretion in returning the suit to state court because Hicks’s act of eliminating her sole federal claim after removal constituted forum manipulation. Even accepting the district’s contention as true, forum manipulation is only one of the important considerations that courts take into account and balance in deciding whether to return a case to state court.
The trial court correctly determined that the balance of common law factors weighed in favor of returning the case to state court. First, keeping the case in federal court “would not serve judicial economy” in light of the early stage of the litigation. At the time of Hicks’s motion to remand, the case had been in federal court for less than a month, the court had not yet issued a scheduling order or held any hearings, the parties had not briefed any substantive motions, and the district court was not “intimately familiar” with the merits of the case. Second, the parties agreed that the relevant state and federal courthouses are in equally convenient locations. Third, “it was certainly fair to have . . . the purely Texas state law claims heard in Texas state court,” and there was nothing in the record to suggest that either party would be prejudiced if the case remained in state court. Thus, the Fifth Circuit upheld the trial court’s decision to return the case to state court.
DID THE FORMER DISTRICT EMPLOYEE TIMELY EXHAUST ADMINISTRATIVE REMEDIES?
Case citation: Baileyv. Terrell ISD, 2014 WL 1664230 (N.D. Tex. 2014) (unpublished).
Summary: On October 2, 2012, Linda Bailey sued her previous employer, the Terrell Independent School District, claiming that her medical records were disclosed by her physician to the district without her permission in March of 2011, and that the district terminated her on October 3, 2011, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII). The trial court, on its own motion, examined whether Bailey has stated sufficient facts to support her claims and whether she had properly exhausted administrative remedies as to the ADA and Title VII claims.
Ruling: The trial court dismissed the suit. Bailey first claimed that the district violated the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), because her medical information was disclosed to it without her permission. According to the trial court, it was Bailey’s doctor, not the district, who improperly disclosed her medical information without her permission. In addition, while HIPAA generally requires confidentiality of medical records, and provides both civil and criminal penalties for improper disclosures of medical information, there is no private cause of action under HIPAA, and therefore federal courts do not have jurisdiction over any HIPAA claims. The trial court dismissed the HIPAA claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.
Bailey next claimed that the district fired her from her job in violation of the ADA and Title VII based on her disability and in retaliation for prior complaints that the district had violated Title VII and the ADA. She claimed further that when she was discharged, she did not receive the correct amount of credit towards her retirement. The ADA prohibits a covered entity from discriminating against a qualified individual with a disability because of that disability. Title VII prohibits, in relevant part, “discrimination against employees who have opposed an unlawful employment practice, or made a charge, testified, assisted, or participated in an investigation, proceeding, or hearing under the employment practices statute.” However, before an individual can pursue a Title VII or ADA claim in federal court, she must exhaust her available administrative remedies. If the individual files a charge with the EEOC, the scope of her subsequent judicial complaint is limited to the “scope of the EEOC investigation which can reasonably be expected to grow out of the charge.”
The complainant must file the charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) within 180 days after the alleged unlawful practice occurred. In a “deferral state” like Texas, the charge must be filed within 300 days of the alleged unlawful act. If the EEOC determines that there is no reasonable cause to believe that an unlawful employment practice has occurred, the EEOC issues a right-to-sue letter informing the party that it has a right to sue in federal court within 90 days of the receipt of the letter. A plaintiff who does not file a charge within 300 days bears the burden of showing a factual basis for tolling the limitations period.
Here, the record showed that on September 24, 2012, Bailey filed her EEOC charge asserting violations of Title VII and the ADA with respect to her termination on October 3, 2011. The EEOC determined that the complaint was untimely, as it was filed more than 300 days after the alleged unlawful practice. While Bailey claimed that she made several complaints and had a number of communications with the EEOC regarding unrelated matters, by her own admission, she did not file a complaint with the EEOC or any other agency either orally or in writing concerning her October 2011 termination until September of 2012. Further, Bailey did not state any facts to support a plausible claim that she was entitled to equitable tolling. Thus, the trial court concluded that her Title VII and ADA claims were time-barred and should be dismissed.
Comments: Note: no private cause of action for HIPAA violations.
Editors’ Note: The cases reported below concern the jurisdictional authority of the Commissioner of Education. The Commissioner has jurisdiction over violations of the “school laws of this state” and the regulations adopted under those laws. The Commissioner also has jurisdiction over violations of employment contracts that caused, or would cause, monetary harm. To establish jurisdiction, petitioners also must exhaust administrative remedies at the district level. Recently the Commissioner dismissed a number of cases for lack of jurisdiction. The cases are summarized briefly below.
PETITIONER DID NOT ALLEGE A VIOLATION OF THE SCHOOL LAWS OF TEXAS
Case citation & summary: Child v. Harris County Dept. of Educ., Dkt. No. 062-R5-0312 (Comm’r Educ. December 18, 2013). Parents of a child in the Harris County Department of Education complained to the Texas Education Agency that the department failed to report an educator to the State Board for Educator Certification. The Commissioner held that the parents failed to identify a section of the Texas Education Code or title 19 of the Texas Administrative Code that the department may have violated. Thus, the claims were dismissed for lack of jurisdiction.
Case citation & summary: De La Paz v. Harlingen CISD, Dkt. No. 057-R10-07-2013 (Comm’r Educ. February 14, 2014). Dalaina De La Paz filed a Petition for Review with the Commissioner of Education, claiming that the District retaliated against her for filing a grievance, discriminated against her, improperly reassigned her, and failed to appraise her for the 2012-13 school year. However, the Commissioner did not have jurisdiction over the claims because the claims were moot. The record showed that De La Paz had been nonrenewed and, as a result, she no longer worked for the district. The Commissioner later upheld the nonrenewal decision. Thus, the claims were moot and the Commissioner lacked jurisdiction.