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Dismissal

THE TRIAL COURT ERRED WHEN IT DISMISSED THE DISCRIMINATION SUIT

Case citation:  Davoodiv. Austin ISD, 755 F.3d 307 (5th Cir. 2014).

Summary: Mostafa Davoodi filed this lawsuit in Texas state court against his former employer, Austin Independent School District, asserting claims of national origin discrimination, retaliation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Attached and “fully incorporated” into his lawsuit was the Charge of Discrimination Davoodi filed with both the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Texas Workforce Commission. The Charge alleged that Davoodi “ha[d] been and continue[d] to be discriminated against, in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, as amended, [and] the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act, as amended, because of [his] national origin.” Davoodi initially referenced the Charge in the “Facts” section of his complaint, but also referenced the Charge and the EEOC when addressing his claim for retaliation.

The district removed the case to federal court on the grounds that the federal court had jurisdiction because the suit raised federal law causes of action.  The district also filed a partial motion to dismiss, seeking to dismiss all of Davoodi’s claims except his claim for discriminatory termination under Texas state law. Davoodi did not respond to the motion.  The district court granted AISD’s partial motion to dismiss. The district court then sua sponte dismissed all of Davoodi’s claims—including his claim for discriminatory termination under Texas state law. Davoodi appealed to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that removal to federal court was not proper and the trial court should not have dismissed his claims.

Ruling:  The Fifth Circuit reversed the dismissal of Davoodi’s state law discrimination claims.  On appeal, Davoodi argued that (1) the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction because no federal question existed on the face of his complaint, and (2) the district court erred in dismissing his claim for discriminatory termination under state law. Davoodi argued that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over his claims, asserting that the discrimination claims were brought only under state law. According to the appeals court, however, because Davoodi attached and fully incorporated the Charge of Discrimination into his complaint, it became a part of his complaint for all purposes.  Thus the suit included the assertion that he “ha[d] been and continue[d] to be discriminated against, in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, as amended, [and] the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act.” As a result, the district court had jurisdiction over Davoodi’s lawsuit and removal was proper.

The appeals court also held that the trial court erred because it dismissed his state law discriminatory termination claim. The district did not ask for dismissal of Davoodi’s state law discriminatory termination claim, and the trial court did not otherwise provide notice of its intent to dismiss that claim. As such, Davoodi had no notice or opportunity to be heard before the district court issued its order of dismissal.  The trial court’s actions amounted to reversible error.

 

Sanctions

THE DISTRICT WAS ENTITLED TO SANCTIONS AGAINST THE FORMER EMPLOYEE

Case citation:  Emanuel v. Bastrop ISD, 2014 WL 2971059 (W.D. Tex. 2014) (unpublished).

Summary:  Charlene Emanuel filed suit against her former employer, Bastrop Independent School District, claiming that the district discriminated against her on the basis of her race, color, national origin, and age when it terminated her employment.  Throughout the course of the litigation, Emanuel was represented by counsel only sporadically and failed to meet many of the court’s litigation deadlines.  The district ultimately filed a motion for sanctions against Emanuel, arguing that her conduct prohibited them from adequately preparing a defense.

Ruling:  The trial court dismissed the suit and ordered monetary sanctions against Emanuel.  Emanuel’s refusal to meet court directed deadlines severely prejudiced the district. Nearly one year after the initial scheduling order was released, Emanuel still had not complied with her discovery obligations including designating potential witnesses, testifying experts, proposed exhibits or providing initial disclosures. Her delays cost the district significant time and money and required them to draft and file additional motions. According to the court, lesser sanctions would not have been effective or served any beneficial purpose. Emanuel showed a “blatant disregard for this Court’s authority,” and she remained delinquent in filing required discovery, even though she was specifically warned that her failure to comply would result in sanctions.

In addition to violating multiple court orders, Emanuel failed to not respond to the request for sanctions.   Rather than use those opportunities to correct the record and explain her delinquencies, she chose to file frivolous motions to prevent the district from discussing relevant medical testimony and accusing all legal counsel involved in the case of a conspiracy to violate her privacy.  Due to Emanuel’s obvious disregard for the judicial process, the trial court dismissed the suit and ordered Emanuel to pay $5,000 in attorney’s fees to the district.

 

Commissioner Jurisdiction

THE EMPLOYEE FAILED TO TIMELY FILE GRIEVANCES

Case citation:  Ortiz v. Plano ISD, Dkt. No. 027-R10-12-2012 (Comm’r Educ. May 23, 2014).

Summary:   Sylvia Ortiz worked in the Plano Independent School District when, on June 27, 2012, she was informed of a recommendation to place her on administrative leave.  Two individuals were involved in the investigatory report that led to the recommendation.   On August 12, 2012, the district placed Ortiz on administrative leave.   On August 29, 2012, Ortiz filed grievances against the two individuals involved in the report. Under the district’s grievance policy, grievances must be filed within fifteen days of the date the employee “first knew, or with reasonable diligence should have known, of the decision or action giving rise to the complaint or grievance.”  At the grievance hearing, Ortiz presented the merits of her grievances, but the board limited its decision to the issue of timeliness.  After the board denied the grievances as untimely, Ortiz appealed to the Commissioner of Education.

Ruling:  The Commissioner dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction because Ortiz failed to properly exhaust administrative remedies.  According to the Commissioner, a teacher or parent must properly proceed through the grievance process to exhaust administrative remedies before appealing to the Commissioner. The event triggering the timeline for Ortiz to file the grievance was the June 27, 2012 notice of the recommendation to place her on administrative leave.  That was the date that she “knew, or with reasonable diligence should have known, of the decision or action giving rise to the complaint or grievance.”   Because her August 29, 2012 grievances were filed passed the fifteen-day deadline, the grievances were untimely. In addition, although Ortiz argued the merits of her case during her presentation to the board, the issue of timeliness had not been waived.  The Commissioner did not have jurisdiction over Ortiz’s appeal.

Comments:  As mentioned above, “Ortiz v. Plano ISD” comes up a lot.

 

THE DISTRICT COULD NOT TAKE AN INTERLOCUTORY APPEAL

Case citation:  NorthForest ISD v. Ware, Dkt. No. 001-R8-09-2013 (Comm’r Educ. May 23, 2014).

Summary:   North Forest Independent School District filed an appeal with the Commissioner of Education complaining of actions by an independent hearing examiner concerning proposed nonrenewals and terminations of a number of teacher contracts. Specifically, the district argued that the hearing examiner lacked jurisdiction over proposed nonrenewals and terminations because the school district had been annexed to another school district. The district sought an order that the Chapter 21 proceedings pending against it are moot and that the hearing examiner lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear the nonrenewal and termination proceedings.

Ruling:  The Commissioner concluded that jurisdiction did not exist over the school district’s appeal challenging the hearing examiner’s actions over pending nonrenewal and termination cases. First, the former school district, now annexed into another district, is not a “person” who can bring a petition for review under Texas Education Code § 7.057(a).  The term does not included non-existent entities, such as the former school district.  In addition, interlocutory appeals (i.e., appeals taken during the pendency of litigation) in cases brought under Texas Education Code, chapter 21, subchapter F are not allowed under Education Code § 7.057.