Wednesday, June 29, 2011

TCHRA: Age discrimination claims under state anti-discrimination statute (Chapter 21 Tex. Labor Code)


Texas statute provides remedy against discriminatory employment practices like Tile VII; courts follow federal precedent in interpreting the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act [TCHRA]

Under the THCRA:
An employer commits an unlawful employment practice if because of race, color, disability, religion, sex, national origin, or age the employer:
(1) fails or refuses to hire an individual, discharges an individual, or discriminates in any other manner against an individual in connection with compensation or the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment; or
(2) limits, segregates, or classifies an employee or applicant for employment in a manner that would deprive or tend to deprive an individual of any employment opportunity or adversely affect in any other manner the status of an employee.
TEX. LAB. CODE ANN. § 21.051 (West 2006).

The TCHRA also provides:
(a) Except as otherwise provided by this chapter, an unlawful employment practice is established when the complainant demonstrates that race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age, or disability was a motivating factor for an employment practice, even if other factors also motivated the practice, unless race, color, sex, national origin, religion, age, or disability is combined with objective job-related factors to attain diversity in the employer’s work force.
(b) In a complaint in which a complainant proves a violation under Subsection (a) and a respondent demonstrates that the respondent would have taken the same action in the absence of the impermissible motivating factor, the court may grant declaratory relief, injunctive relief except as otherwise provided by this subsection, and attorney’s fees and costs demonstrated to be directly attributable only to the pursuit of a complaint under Subsection (a), but may not award damages or issue an order requiring an admission, reinstatement, hiring, promotion, or back pay.
Id. § 21.125. Because the TCHRA’s stated purpose is to “provide for the execution of the policies of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its subsequent amendments,” Texas courts apply analogous federal case law when interpreting the Texas statute. Id. § 21.001(1); Quantum Chem. Corp. v. Toennies, 47 S.W.3d 473, 476 (Tex. 2001).

SOURCE: San Antonio Court of Appeals - 04-10-00730-CV - 6/22/11


Texas law requires that a complaint of unlawful employment discrimination be filed with the Texas Commission on Human Rights within 180 days after the alleged unlawful employment action occurs. Cooper-Day v. RME Petroleum Co., 121 S.W.3d 78, 83 (Tex.App.-Fort Worth 2003, pet. denied), citing Specialty Retailers, Inc. v. DeMoranville, 933 S.W.2d 490, 492 (Tex. 1996); see Tex.Lab.Code Ann. § 21.202(a)(Vernon 2006). This limitations period is mandatory and jurisdictional. Schroeder v. Texas Iron Works, Inc., 813 S.W.2d 483, 486 (Tex. 1991). That is, failure to timely file an administrative complaint deprives Texas trial courts of subject matter jurisdiction over a subsequent claim against the employer. See Cooper-Day, 121 S.W.3d at 83.

The Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (the "TCHRA," codified in Chapter 21 of the Texas Labor Code) makes it unlawful for an employer to discriminate against an employee with respect to compensation or the terms, conditions, or privileges of employment because of race, color, disability, religion, sex, or national origin. TEX. LAB.CODE ANN. § 21.051 (Vernon 2006). Before filing suit, a plaintiff must file a complaint with the TWC or EEOC and receive a notice of right to sue on the claims alleged. See id. §§ 21.201-202. Once that notice of right to sue is received, the plaintiff must then file suit within 60 days. Id. § 21.254. Texas courts have interpreted section 21.254 to mean that a plaintiff must file the suit and serve notice of the suit upon the proper parties within 60 days of receiving of notice of a right to sue from the TWC. See, e.g., Tarrant County v. Vandigriff, 71 S.W.3d 921, 924 (Tex.App.-Fort Worth 2002, pet. denied) ("The mere filing of a lawsuit is not sufficient to meet the requirements of `bringing suit' within the limitations period [of Chapter 21]; rather, a plaintiff must both file her action and have the defendant served with process.") (emphasis in original); Davis v. Educ. Serv. Ctr., 62 S.W.3d 890, 893 n. 4 (Tex. App.-Texarkana 2001, no pet.); Roberts v. Padre Island Brewing Co., 28 S.W.3d 618, 621 (Tex.App.-Corpus Christi 2000, pet. denied);

The limitations period begins when the employee is informed of the allegedly discriminatory employment decision. Tex.Lab.Code Ann. § 21.202(a); see Delaware State College v. Ricks, 449 U.S. 250, 258, 101 S.Ct. 498, 504, 66 L.Ed.2d 431 (1980); Specialty Retailers, 933 S.W.2d at 493. The date the allegedly discriminatory decision goes into effect, or the date on which the effect of such decision is realized by the employee, does not alter the commencement of the 180-day period. See Villareal v. Williams, 971 S.W.2d 622, 625 (Tex.App.-San Antonio 1998, no pet.), citing Johnson & Johnson Med., Inc. v. Sanchez, 924 S.W.2d 925, 928-29 (Tex. 1996)(Applying the Worker's Compensation Act); Specialty Retailers, 933 S.W.2d at 492-93 (Applying the TCHR); Cooper-Day, 121 S.W.3d at 83, 85. As the United States Supreme Court explained in its interpretation of the equivalent provision in Title VII, "`the proper focus is upon the time of the discriminatory acts, not upon the time at which the consequences of the acts became most painful.'" Ricks, 449 U.S. at 258, 101 S.Ct. at 504.
"The [Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (CHRA)] . . . establishes a `comprehensive administrative review system,' under which the `exhaustion of administrative remedies is a mandatory prerequisite to filing a civil action alleging violations of the CHRA.'" Hoffmann-La Roche, Inc. v. Zeltwanger, 144 S.W.3d 438, 446 (Tex. 2004) (quoting Schroeder v. Tex. Iron Works, Inc., 813 S.W.2d 483, 485, 488 (Tex. 1991)). To comply with the exhaustion requirement, an employee must (1) file a complaint with the EEOC within 180 days of the alleged discriminatory act and (2) allow the EEOC to dismiss the complaint or resolve the complaint within 180 days before filing suit. Rice v. Russell-Stanley, L.P., 131 S.W.3d 510, 513 (Tex. App. Waco 2004, pet. denied); see Tex. Lab. Code Ann. §§ 21.201-.202, 21.208 (Vernon 2006); see also Gallegos v. Johnson, No. 13-07-00603-CV, 2010 Tex. App. LEXIS 1330, at **37-38 (Tex. App.-Corpus Christi Feb. 25, 2010, no pet. h.) (mem. op.). A plaintiff's entitlement to a right-to-sue letter signals that she has satisfied the exhaustion requirement. See Rice, 131 S.W.3d at 512 (holding that "it is the entitlement to the right-to-sue letter that exhausts the complainant's administrative remedies," not its possession); City of Houston v. Fletcher, 63 S.W.3d 920, 923 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 2002, no pet.) (explaining that "[t]he statute certainly supports an interpretation that the right-to-sue letter is notice of exhaustion, not actually part of exhaustion"); see also Gallegos, 2010 Tex. App. LEXIS 1330, at *38. Additionally, the suit must be filed no later than two years after the original complaint is filed. See Tex. Lab. Code Ann. § 21.256 (Vernon 2006); Rice, 131 S.W.3d at 513; see also Gallegos, 2010 Tex. App. LEXIS 1330, at **37-38.

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