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Rivera v. Port Arthur ISD, Dkt. No. 13-14-00214 (Tex. App. – Corpus Christi 2016).

Facts:  A football coach for the Port Arthur ISD brought suit claiming retaliation for filing discrimination complaints and defamation against the school principal and assistant coach.  The record showed that the coach previously sued the district, in 2004, for race discrimination and retaliation and the suit ultimately settled.  In 2009, an incident happened between the coach and a student.  The student alleged that the coach choked him during a football game.  Some witnesses reported that the coach grabbed the student’s football jersey collar when he repeatedly stepped into the running lane after being told not to.  After an investigation, the principal recommended the coach’s termination and the District reported the matter to Child Protective Services and the State Board for Educator Certification.  Instead of termination, however, the coach was transferred to another school.  At trial, the jury found in favor of the coach on his retaliation claim but the trial court entered an order finding that the evidence was insufficient to support the jury’s verdict.  The coach appealed.

Holding:  The appeals court upheld the judgment in favor of the district.  The coach presented no evidence that the school officials involved in his termination had any knowledge of the coach’s prior lawsuit. In light of the three-year lapse between the settlement of the coach’s earlier lawsuit and the absence of other evidence of retaliatory motive, the coach failed to present sufficient evidence to support his retaliation claim.  The suit against the principal and assistant coach also failed because they were entitled to professional immunity under Education Code § 22.0511, which provides professional school employees immunity from liability in relation to actions taken within the scope of their employment.  The coach’s allegations and evidence were not enough to overcome professional immunity under the Education Code.  The appeals court, therefore, upheld the dismissal of the coach’s claims.

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