Justia Labor & Employment Law Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Texas Supreme Court
Mission Consol. Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Garcia
After Employer fired her, Plaintiff filed suit, alleging that she was discriminated against based on her race, national origin, age, and gender. Employer filed a plea to the jurisdiction, arguing that Plaintiff's pleadings failed to establish a prima facie case of discrimination because Plaintiff was replaced by another Mexican-American woman who was three years older than Plaintiff. The trial court denied Employer's plea. The court of appeals affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that the plea should have been granted on the age-discrimination, as replacement by an older worker was not fatal to Plaintiff's claim. The Supreme Court reversed and dismissed the suit, holding (1) to establish a prima facie case of age discrimination under the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA), a plaintiff in a true replacement case must show she was (i) a member of the protected class, (ii) qualified for her employment position, (iii) terminated by the employer, and (iv) replaced by someone younger; and (2) because Plaintiff here was replaced by an older worker, she failed to allege a prima facie case, and the trial court should have granted Defendant's plea to the jurisdiction.
In re XL Specialty Ins. Co.
An injured employee (Employee) sought workers' compensation benefits for a work-related injury. A claims adjuster with Employer's workers' compensation insurer's (Insurer) third party administrator denied the claim. The Division of Workers' compensation determined that Employee was entitled to medical and temporary income benefits. Employee subsequently brought a bad faith action against Insurer, its third party administrator, and the claims adjuster (Defendants). During discovery, Employee sought communications made between Insurer's lawyer and Employer during the administrative proceedings. Defendants argued that the attorney-client privilege protected the communications. The trial court held that the privilege did not apply. The court of appeals subsequently denied mandamus relief. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the attorney-client privilege did not protect the communications between Insurer and its insured.
Am. Zurich Ins. Co. v. Samudio
Employee suffered an injury during the course of his employment that was compensable under the Texas Workers' Compensation Act. Petitioner insurance company provided workers' compensation coverage to Employee's employer. Petitioner disputed the impairment rating of twenty percent assigned by the doctor in the administrative proceedings. A hearing officer issued a decision finding that Employee had an impairment rating of twenty percent. The Division of Workers' Compensation upheld the decision. Petitioner appealed. The trial court granted Employee's plea to the jurisdiction and dismissed the case. The court of appeals affirmed. At issue on appeal was whether a reviewing court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to resolve an impairment rating appeal if the only rating presented to the agency was invalid. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the absence of a valid impairment rating does not deprive the court of jurisdiction. Remanded.
TX Dept. of Ins., et al. v. American National Ins. Co., et al.
The parties to the appeal disagreed about whether an employer who self funded a health-benefit plan for its employees was an "insurer" under the Texas Insurance Code, and therefore should be treated as a reinsurer when purchasing stop-loss insurance. The court of appeals concluded that an employer's self-funded plan was clearly an insurer under the Code and that a plan's purchase of stop-loss insurance was also clearly reinsurance beyond the regulatory scope of the Texas Department of Insurance. The court accordingly reversed the trial court's judgment, which held that the agency's regulation of the stop-loss policies at issue as direct insurance. Because the regulatory agency did not clearly err in its regulation of these stop-loss policies, however, the court reversed the court of appeals' judgment and rendered judgment for the agency.
Safeshred, Inc. v. Martinez, III
Plaintiff brought a wrongful termination claim against his employer under Sabine Pilot Service, Inc. v. Hauck, seeking lost wages, mental anguish damages, and exemplary damages. This case required the court to clarify the nature and scope of the cause of action for wrongful termination of an employee for refusing to perform an illegal act that the court recognized in Sabine Pilot. At issue was whether a plaintiff in a Sabine Pilot action could recover punitive damages, and if so, what must be shown as to a prerequisite for those damages. The court agreed with the court of appeals' conclusion that a Sabine Pilot cause of action sounded in tort and allowed punitive damages upon proper proof. However, because the court held that plaintiff failed to present legally sufficient evidence of malice relating to his firing, the court reversed the court of appeals' judgment insofar as it affirmed the award of exemplary damages.
Bison Building Materials, Ltd., v. Aldridge
This case arose from respondent's injury on the job and the arbitration agreement he signed as a condition of his employment. At issue was whether an appellate court had jurisdiction over an appeal from a trial court order confirming an arbitration award in part and vacating the award in part based on the existence of unresolved questions of law or fact necessary to a ruling, yet the trial court did not expressly direct a rehearing. Because the order left significant factual and legal issues open for further determination, it was interlocutory and not appealable unless authorized by statute. Accordingly, the court of appeals and the court did not have jurisdiction over the interlocutory appeal.
Arvizu, et al. v. The Estate of George Puckett
Plaintiff and her son were injured when her car was struck by a pickup truck driven by Edward Cantu. MCAA employed Cantu and Puckett owned the truck. Cantu's negligence was stipulated. The jury found that, although MCAA was his employer, Cantu drove the vehicle for Puckett's benefit. The jury found that MCAA, as Cantu's employer, had the right to direct the details of his work. It also found that Cantu was subject to Puckett's control "as to the details of the mission" when the accident occurred. The trial court rendered judgment for plaintiff. The court of appeals remanded for a new trial, holding that a jury could not logically find MCAA and Puckett to have simultaneously controlled Cantu's conduct, as the trial court had instructed the jury that Cantu could not have been an employee of both. But the jury also found that MCAA was subject to Puckett's control and was on a mission for Puckett's benefit - which comprised the elements of a principal-agent relationship. MCAA was vicariously liable for its employee's negligence; Puckett as principal was responsible for its agent's conduct. Because it was able to reconcile the jury's answers on that agency theory, the court reversed the court of appeals' judgment.
Port Elevator-Brownsville, L.L.C. v. Casados, et al.
Rafael Casados suffered a fatal, work-related injury while working for two employers that both had workers' compensation coverage. Casados' parents sued one of the employers. At issue was whether workers' compensation was the exclusive remedy to Casados' parents, which would bar their suit against Port Elevator. Because Port Elevator had a workers' compensation policy, Casados was an employee, he suffered a work-related injury, and the jury failed to find Port Elevator grossly negligent, the Texas Workers' Compensation Act (TWCA), Tex. Lab. Code 406, provided that the exclusive remedy was against the employer's insurer - not the employer. Accordingly, the claim at issue in this appeal was barred. The court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and rendered judgment for Port Elevator.
City of Dallas v. Martin, et al.
This matter arose out of a dispute over whether the City of Dallas paid its firefighters and police officers in accord with a 1979 ordinance adopted pursuant to a voter-approved referendum. Claiming the City had not properly paid them, some firefighters and police officers brought a class action asserting breach of contract claims and seeking a declaratory judgment. For the reasons set out in City of Dallas v. Albert, the court concluded that: (1) the ordinance's adoption by means of referendum did not result in the City's loss of immunity from suit; (2) the City had immunity from suit as to the declaratory judgment action; (3) by non-suiting its counterclaim the City did not reinstate immunity from suit as to the Officers' claims that were pending against the City when it non-suited the counterclaim; and (4) the case must be remanded for the trial court to consider whether the Legislature waived the City's immunity by amending the Local Government Code.
Lowell, et al. v. Baytown, et al.
Firefighters for the City of Baytown sued the City claiming that it improperly calculated pay for certain assignments in violation of the Firefighter and Police Civil Services Act. Here, the firefighters' claims for back pay and related damages for improper calculation of pay for assignments performed in the past were the type of retrospective relief that the court held barred by governmental immunity in City of El Paso v. Heinrich and City of Houston v. Williams. In Heinrich, the court noted however, that the Legislature could authorize retrospective relief. The firefighters asserted that the Legislature had done so with Local Government Code sections 271.151-.160, enacted during the pendency of this appeal. In addition to remanding to permit the firefighters to replead in light of Chapter 271, the court also remanded to permit the firefighters to replead in light of Heinrich and seek appropriate relief, if any, against the relevant city officials.