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Vernard Grice v. Alamo Community College District

April 24, 2013


From the 407th Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2010-CI-17062 Honorable Barbara Hanson Nellermoe, Judge Presiding

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice

Fourth Court of Appeals San Antonio, Texas


Opinion by: Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice

Sitting: Catherine Stone, Chief Justice Marialyn Barnard, Justice Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice


Vernard Grice appeals the trial court's summary judgment in favor of Alamo Community College District ("ACCD") on his claims for unlawful sex and race discrimination. We affirm the judgment, holding Grice failed to present any evidence that he was treated less favorably than similarly situated females or non-African-Americans.


Grice is an African-American male who began work at ACCD in 1996 as a Continuing Education Specialist. By mid-2008, Grice was serving as both the Interim Director of Partnerships and Extended Services at St. Philip's College and as the Interim Dean of Workforce Development and Continuing Education.*fn1 In his position as the Interim Director, Grice's responsibilities included interviewing, hiring, and supervising staff. As Interim Dean, Grice held an upper-level management position in which he supervised staff and was expected to provide direction and leadership.

When Grice was hired, he received and signed ACCD's sexual harassment policy. That policy contained a broad definition of sexual harassment and further stated, "Engaging in sexual conduct with students or other employees where there is a professional responsibility to the student or employee may lead to allegations of sexual harassment and is therefore discouraged." Grice received training on sexual harassment and ACCD's policies in 2002, 2007, and in February 2008. Dr. Adena Williams Loston, who became President of St. Philip's College in 2007, testified she made it clear to the staff from the time she started that she believed intimate relationships with students or other employees were inappropriate.

In September 2008, Grice's department was looking for an offsite evening monitor to work at several offsite locations. Grice asked the secretary to contact the temporary agency to find someone to work part-time temporarily until the position could be advertised and filled permanently. The temporary agency sent Ms. Cooper. During Ms. Cooper's first three months of work, she reported directly to Grice because the position of her direct supervisor was not filled. Within a month of Ms. Cooper starting work, Grice's relationship with her became personal and physical. Grice maintains the relationship was always consensual and there was never any express or implied coercion. They saw each other outside of work regularly until sometime in January 2009, and then less frequently until mid-April 2009. During this time, Grice and Ms. Cooper exchanged numerous text messages, including at least one sexually explicit picture sent by Grice. Grice also admitted that at times third parties were involved in their sexual activities. Grice testified he gave Ms. Cooper money to repair her car, pay her cell phone and electric bills, and pay for gas. He paid her $100 to clean his house, and in April 2009, he gave her $200 to take her grandchildren to Fiesta. Although some outside parties were aware of the relationship, no one at ACCD was aware of it.

By January 2009, the position of Ms. Cooper's direct supervisor had been filled. Nevertheless, she remained under Grice's supervision, two or three levels below him in the chain of authority. In March 2009, Ms. Cooper was hired as a permanent part-time employee. Grice testified he was not directly involved in the hiring decision.

In February 2009, ACCD posted proposed new personnel policies for employee review and comment. The revised sexual harassment policy, D.4.5, contained minor changes in the definition of "sexual harassment," but remained essentially unchanged from the previous policy. However, the language "discouraging" consensual relationships was removed from the sexual harassment policy and was replaced by a separate, new policy entitled "Consensual Relationships." The new policy, D.4.12, expressly prohibited romantic or sexual relationships between employees and their subordinates or students "whether or not they result in sexual harassment." In April 2009, Dr. Loston told her staff at one of her weekly meetings that if any of them were engaged in such a relationship, it needed to stop before the policy went into effect. Grice testified he ended the relationship with Ms. Cooper because of Dr. Loston's warning. The new policies went into effect April 28, 2009.

Ms. Cooper filed a sexual harassment complaint against Grice in September 2009. The complaint alleged that while she was working through the temporary service, Grice, her supervisor, started calling her frequently and asking her out. She alleged he would become angry if she declined. She stated Grice repeatedly told her he could get her hired as a permanent employee, but it would take time. She complained that Grice stalked her at nightclubs, made inappropriate sexual comments to her, sent sexually explicit text messages, called her at inappropriate hours, and at times sent her money for no apparent reason. Ms. Cooper stated Grice implied that she owed her job to him and required that she go to his house to get ...

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