Kelly v. St. Luke Cmty. United Methodist Church, 2018 Tex. App. LEXIS 962 | 2018 WL 654907 (Tex.App.-Dallas 2018)

Ecclesiastical Abstention Doctrine

In an employment dispute filed by a church employee who was terminated, the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine arising from U.S. Constitution First Amendment applied to all of the employee’s claims for negligence, fraud, misrepresentation, discrimination, and defamatory statements published within the church community relating to internal matters of church governance. The ecclesiastical abstention doctrine stands for the proposition that the First Amendment prohibits civil courts from exercising jurisdiction over matters concerning theological controversy, church discipline, ecclesiastical government, or the conformity of the members of a church to the standard of morals required of them. The trial court’s order properly denied Defendant’s plea to the jurisdiction as to the portion of the employee’s defamation claim respecting the statements published to persons outside the church, because the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine did not apply. Summary judgment was properly granted on the defamation claim, because the employee failed to present more than a scintilla of probative evidence as to the challenged element of publication.

Vanderhurst v. Statoil Gulf Servs., LLC, 2018 Tex. App. LEXIS 732 | 2018 WL 541912 (Tex. App.- Houston [1st Dist.] 2018)

Texas Commission on Human Rights Act Retaliation Claim

An employee’s claim for retaliation under the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act, Tex. Lab. Code Ann. §§ 21.001-.556, alleging that the employer removed him as the leader of a high-profile project in retaliation for reporting his co-worker’s threats to reveal their affair to the employee’s wife, was subject to summary judgment because the decision to remove him from the project was made before he reported the co-worker to the human resources department and was based on specific shortcomings that were not refuted by the employee. To establish a prima facie case of retaliation, “a plaintiff must show that (1) he participated in a protected activity, (2) his employer took an adverse employment action against him, and (3) a causal connection existed between his protected activity and the adverse employment action. Donaldson v. Tex. Dep’t of Aging & Disability Servs., 495 S.W.3d 421, 441 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] 2016, pet. denied). Also, there was no evidence that the employee’s work environment was objectively offensive, or one that a reasonable person would find hostile or abusive, because after he reported the harassment the co-worker was moved and placed on a different team and did not communicate with him again. Further, the Court held there was no evidence of constructive discharge.

Delaronde v. Legend Classic Homes, Ltd., 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 1197 | 2018 WL 473559 (5th Cir. 2018)

Title VII- Similarly Situated Comparator Employees

A jury verdict of $150,000 for a real estate employee in her Title VII sex discrimination case was upheld because there was enough evidence presented at trial — albeit largely circumstantial — from which the jury could conclude the employer engaged in illegal discrimination when it transferred the agent from a development where she had made excellent money to a development with poor sales and credit issues, while a similarly situated male agent was not transferred. The employer’s attempts to explain how it treated the agent were inconsistent and could be viewed by a reasonable juror as pretextual for a discriminatory purpose. Employer argued that employee did not present legally sufficient evidence that she was treated differently from similarly situated men in nearly identical circumstances. In a Title VII case, a plaintiff may show she was treated less favorably than other employees who are “similarly situated” to the plaintiff. Lee v. Kansas City So. Ry. Co., 574 F.3d 253, 259 (5th Cir. 2009). This court has required plaintiffs proffering fellow employees as comparators to demonstrate the actions at issue were taken “under nearly identical circumstances.” Id. at 260. The inquiry as to which employees are considered “similarly situated” is “case-specific” and requires an analysis of the full variety of factors that an objectively reasonable decisionmaker would have found relevant in making the challenged decision. The court found that the titles, responsibilities, and equivalent experience were close enough for a reasonable factfinder to view them as being similarly situated. Because the district court properly instructed the jury on the controlling law regarding the agent’s burden of proof, it did not err in refusing the employer’s proposed instruction.

Williams v. Tarrant Cty. Coll. Dist., 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 1196 | 2018 WL 480487 (5th Cir. 2018)

EEOC- Exhaustion of Remedies- Retaliation- ADA-FMLA

In an ADA, FMLA, and state law suit, although she failed to check the retaliation box or otherwise include the word “retaliation” in her charge, a former employee’s EEOC charge was sufficient to exhaust her retaliation claim because the investigation based on her charge would examine whether she was engaged in a protected activity and whether she was terminated as a result. The employee showed a genuine dispute of material fact regarding whether she was disabled because the employee’s declaration detailing her trouble sleeping, thinking, focusing, communicating, and caring for herself created a genuine dispute of material fact for whether her impairments were substantially limiting under the ADA. Because she provided no evidence supporting a willful violation (which has a three-year limitation period), the employee’s FMLA claims were barred by the two-year limitations period.

Digital Realty Trust, Inc. v. Somers, 2018 U.S. LEXIS 1377 (U.S. Supreme Court, 2018)

Dodd-Frank Act-Whistleblower Qualifications

A former employee, who was terminated shortly after he reported to senior management suspected securities law violations by the company, but who did not provide information to the SEC before his termination, was not a whistleblower entitled to relief under the anti-retaliation provision of the Dodd-Frank Act, 15 U.S.C.S. § 78u-6(a)(6), because § 78u-6(a)(6) did not include an individual who did not report a securities law violation to the SEC. The Act defined a whistleblower as a person who provided information relating to a securities law violation to the SEC. Dodd-Frank’s purpose and design corroborated this SEC reporting requirement. A contrary view in SEC Rule 21F-2, 17 C.F.R. § 240.21f-2(B)(1), was not entitled to Chevron deference because the statute’s unambiguous whistleblower definition precluded the SEC from more expansively interpreting that term.

Mosby-Meachem v. Memphis Light, Gas & Water Division, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 4080 (6th Cir. 2018)

ADA- Leave as Reasonable Accommodation

District court did not err in denying defendant’s motion for judgment as a matter of law where, although evidence supported a finding that in-person attendance was an essential function of plaintiff’s job as an attorney, including an enumerated list of essential functions in the job description, under the deference that the court afforded a jury verdict, plaintiff presented sufficient evidence supporting a finding that she could perform all of the essential functions of her job remotely for 10 weeks while she was on bed rest for pregnancy complications. Thus a rational jury could find that she was a qualified employee under the ADA and that working remotely for 10 weeks was a reasonable accommodation. District court did not abuse its discretion in awarding plaintiff backpay under 42 U.S.C.S. § 12117(a) during the time her law license was administratively suspended.

Bowen v. Manheim Remarketing, Inc., 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 4099 (11th Cir. 2018)

Equal Pay Act- Title VII

The Eleventh Circuit reversed and remanded the district court’s summary judgment dismissal of plaintiff’s discrimination claims against her employer. Plaintiff alleged that the employer discriminated against her by paying her less than her male predecessor. The court held that, taking the evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff, she was entitled to proceed to trial on her Equal Pay Act and Title VII claims. In this case, a jury could conclude that plaintiff was entitled to relief under the Equal Pay Act because the evidence supported a finding that she has made a prima facie case and that the employer failed to establish an affirmative defense in response, and that plaintiff was entitled to relief under Title VII because the evidence supported a finding that her sex “was a motivating factor for” the pay disparity between her and her male predecessor. The employee also raised a mixed-motive claim.

Perez v. City of Roseville, 2018 U.S. App. LEXIS 3212 | 2018 WL 797453 (9th Cir. 2018)

Constitutional Right to Privacy & Intimate Association

Plaintiff filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 against city, alleging that her termination from the police department violated her constitutional rights to privacy and intimate association. The Ninth Circuit held that plaintiff has put forth sufficient evidence to survive summary judgment on her section 1983 claim for violation of her constitutional rights to privacy and intimate association. In this case, a genuine factual dispute existed as to whether the city terminated plaintiff, at least in part, on the basis of her extramarital affair. Furthermore, these rights were clearly established at the time. Therefore, the panel reversed the district court’s grant of qualified immunity on her privacy claim and remanded that claim for further proceedings. The panel affirmed summary judgment on plaintiff’s due process claim because any due process rights she might have had were not clearly established at the time of the challenged action, and thus the police officers were entitled to qualified immunity. Finally, the panel affirmed summary judgment on plaintiff’s sex discrimination claim because the evidence indicated that the city’s disapproval of her extramarital affair, rather than gender discrimination, was the cause of her termination.