Articles Posted in Labor & Employment Law

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Jefferson County v. Jefferson County Constables Ass’n, __ S.W.3d __, __ (Tex. 2018), in which the Supreme Court held that the Fire and Police Employee Relations Act applies to deputy constables because they qualify as “police officers” under the Act’s definition of that term, resolved the issue presented in this case and necessitated reversal of the court of appeals’ judgment. Petitioner was terminated from his employment as a deputy constable in Jefferson County and sued for a declaratory judgment and a writ of mandamus seeking to compel the County to participate in a binding arbitration under the terms of the applicable collective bargaining agreement between the County and its deputy constables’ bargaining association. The trial court granted Petitioner’s requests and ordered the parties to participate in binding arbitration. The court of appeals dismissed the case for want of jurisdiction, holding that deputy constables are not “police officers” under the Act and have no right to bargain collectively with their public employers. The Supreme Court reversed in part and remanded this case for further proceedings, holding that this issue was definitively resolved against the County in Jefferson County. View "Stines v. Jefferson County, Texas" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court agreed with the trial court that the City of Houston does not have governmental immunity from a suit by the Houston Municipal Employees Pension System. This case arose from a dispute over the City of Houston’s creation of local government corporations to which the City transferred some of its employees. At issue was the adoption of resolutions by the Houston Municipal Employees Pension System’s Board of Trustees (Board) related to those employees, their status regarding the City’s pension fund, the correct interpretation of the governing statute. The Houston Municipal Employees Pension System (System) brought this suit seeking to enforce the City’s purported obligation to make contributions to the pension fund. The City filed a plea to the jurisdiction, arguing that governmental immunity barred the System’s claims. The trial court denied the City’s plea. The court of appeals reversed in part. The Supreme Court reversed in part the judgment of the court of appeals and directed that the City’s plea should be denied in full, holding (1) the employees at issue are “members” of the System; (2) the System’s ultra vires and mandamus claims are not barred; and (3) the System’s claims for information pursuant to the Texas Public Information Act are not barred. View "City of Houston v. Houston Municipal Employees Pension System" on Justia Law

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Because the workers’ compensation carrier in this case signed away its right to recover benefits it paid to an injured employee and received a high premium in exchange for assuming that risk it cannot later seek indirectly to recover the same proceeds it agreed not to pursue directly. The carrier her paid benefits to the employee and later sought reimbursement of those payments from any settlement proceeds the employee might receive from a third party. The policy, however, included an endorsement waiving the carrier’s right to recover from a third party sued by the employee. The employee moved for summary judgment declaring that the carrier had waived its right to recover any proceeds from the lawsuit, whether directly from the third party or indirectly from any settlement the third party pays to the employee. The trial court granted summary judgment for the employee, and the court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the waiver foreclosed the carrier’s right to recover from a liable third party, and that waiver included direct recovery from the third party or indirect recovery of the same proceeds after the third party paid them to the employee. View "Wausau Underwriters Insurance Co. v. Wedel" on Justia Law

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An individual qualifies as “unemployed” for purposes of the Texas Unemployment Compensation Act while taking unpaid leave from her job under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), but eligibility for unemployment benefits requires more than “unemployed” status. Julia White went on FMLA leave for severe anxiety and depression. Before White returned to work for Wichita County, she filed a claim for unemployment benefits. The County contested the claim on the ground that White remained a County employee and thus did not qualify for benefits. The Texas Workforce Commission determined that White was “unemployed” while on her unpaid leave of absence and that it could pay her benefits if she met all other requirements. The trial court reversed. The court of appeals affirmed, concluding that it would be “absurd” for an individual to be entitled to unemployment benefits during FMLA leave. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) an individual on unpaid medical leave, even if protected under the FMLA, satisfies the Act’s definition of unemployed and may qualify for unemployment benefits if she meets the Act’s eligibility requirements; and (2) substantial evidence supported the Commission’s decision in this case. View "Texas Workforce Commission v. Wichita County" on Justia Law

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The Texas Whistleblower Act (WBA) does not apply to open-enrollment charter schools operated by a tax-exempt entity. Petitioner operated an open-enrollment charter school that provided tuition-free public education to students on multiple campuses. Respondent, a teacher for the school, sued the school for violating the WBA by retaliating against her. The trial court denied the school’s plea to the jurisdiction asserting immunity from suit. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that because the WBA contains no specific statement that it applies to open-enrollment charter schools, see section 12.1058(c) of the Texas Charter Schools Act, it does not apply to open-enrollment charter schools. View "Neighborhood Centers Inc. v. Walker" on Justia Law

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In this dispute governed by a collective bargaining agreement between a county and its deputy constables, the Supreme Court affirmed the judgment of the court of appeals ruling that deputy constables are “police officers” entitled to enter into collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) with their public employers under Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code Ann. 174 and that the arbitrator did not exceed his authority in awarding relief to the deputy constables. The county petitioned to vacate the arbitrator’s award, arguing that the arbitrator exceeded his authority in concluding that the county violated the CBA by eliminating several deputy constable positions without regard to seniority and ordering the county to reinstate the deputies in order of seniority. The trial court granted the county’s motion for summary judgment and rendered final judgment in its favor. The court of appeals reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that deputy constables are “police officers” under the CBA, that the CBA was valid and enforceable, and that the arbitrator did not exceed his authority in ordering the deputies’ reinstatement on a seniority basis. View "Jefferson County v. Jefferson County Constables Ass’n" on Justia Law

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At issue in this appeal was whether the Alamo Heights Independent School District was immune from Employee’s suit alleging Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA) claims. The Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and rendered judgment dismissing Employee’s TCHRA claims in which she alleged same-sex harassment and bullying by female coaches in the girls athletic department at a San Antonio middle school. The Court held (1) the record bore no evidence that the inappropriate conduct alleged was gender motivated, and therefore, the evidence did not raise an inference of gender-motivated discrimination; (2) Employee did not produce evidence to support her retaliation claim when no presumption of unlawful retaliation existed under the McDonnell Douglas burden-shifting framework; and (3) governmental immunity was not waived in this case, and subject-matter jurisdiction was lacking. View "Alamo Heights Independent School District v. Clark" on Justia Law

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Except in rare circumstances, when the admissibility of a video is at issue, the proper exercise of discretion requires the trial court to actually view the video evidence before ruling on its admissibility. The trial court in this personal-injury suit arising from a workplace accident excluded video evidence without watching it. The video was taken by an investigator hired by the employer and recorded the employee engaging in physical activities over the course of two days. The employer sought to admit the surveillance video into evidence to support its defensive theory that the employee was overstating his pain and downplaying his ability to return to some form of work. Because the surveillance video was highly probative in this case, the Supreme Court reversed the judgment entered in favor of the employee awarding him nearly $10 million, holding that the video should not have been excluded under Tex. R. Evid. 403, and the trial court’s abuse of discretion was harmful. View "Diamond Offshore Services Ltd. v. Williams" on Justia Law

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The Division of Workers’ Compensation has exclusive jurisdiction over statutory and tort claims alleging the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act’s “bona fide offer of employment” process was misused to fabricate grounds for firing a covered employee. Employee sued Employer’s workers’ compensation carrier and its agent (collectively, Accident Fund), alleging retaliation, conspiracy, and tortious interference claims. Specifically, Employee claimed that Accident Fund participated in the bona-fide-employment-offer-process and that his job offers were “bogus,” thus serving as a pretext for terminating him. Accident Fund filed a plea to the jurisdiction, asserting that exclusive jurisdiction lay with the Division of Workers’ Compensation. The trial court denied the plea. Accident Fund filed a petition for mandamus relief, which the court of appeals denied. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the Division had exclusive jurisdiction over Employee’s claims against Accident Fund; and (2) because Employee did not exhaust administrative remedies through the workers’ compensation administrative process before filing suit, mandamus relief for Accident Fund was appropriate. View "In re Accident Fund General Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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At issue in this workers’ compensation was the meaning of the word “issue” as used in Title 5 of the Labor Code. The trial court ruled that Respondent did not suffer a compensable injury and was therefore not entitled to workers’ compensation. The court also granted the State Office of Risk Management’s (SORM) motion for summary judgment on the ground that Respondent violated a statute by working from home. The court of appeals reversed the grant of summary judgment for SORM and affirmed the denial of Respondent’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that because SORM never presented the statutory-violation ground to the appeals panel at the administrative level, the panel necessarily could not have “decided” that “issue,” and therefore, the Labor Code barred the trial court from exercising jurisdiction over SORM’s motion. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the statutory ground SORM argued in its summary judgment motion was an argument supporting resolving in SORM’s favor the issue of whether Respondent was in the course and scope of her employment at the time of her accident, and therefore, SORM was free to raise the statutory argument at any time; and (2) Respondent’s motion for summary judgment was properly denied. View "State Office of Risk Management v. Martinez" on Justia Law