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Mayeaux v. Houston Independent School District

United States District Court, Fifth Circuit

January 10, 2014



GREGG COSTA, District Judge.

Although the federal courts frequently hear employment discrimination cases, the protected status at issue in this case is not a commonly litigated one: military status under the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (USERRA). Plaintiff Romona Mayeaux is a member of the United States National Guard and, until the termination that led to this suit, was an at-will employee for a middle school in the Houston Independent School District (HISD). She contends that HISD fired her because she missed time from work due to her military obligations. HISD maintains that Mayeaux's termination was based solely on her violations of school fundraising procedures and seeks summary judgment on that ground.


A. Mayeaux Is Hired

In July 2005, HISD hired Plaintiff Mayeaux as an at-will JROTC teacher at Fonville Middle School to train students in the school's Leadership Citizen and Development Corps. Her supervisor was the principal, Roger Ibarra. Mayeaux was and remains an active member of the United States National Guard and as such is required to attend military service one weekend every month and military training fifteen days every year. Docket Entry No. 57-2 at 2.

B. Mayeaux's Fundraising Activities

Because of her military obligations, Mayeaux missed a training program provided to Fonville teachers in August 2009 in preparation for the 2009-2010 school year. The training program reviewed the fundraising procedures applicable to all Fonville employees, which remained unchanged from the 2008-2009 school year. The basic rules for fundraisers at Fonville are:

• Teachers must submit two forms: a Form AF-108 (Permission Request for a Money Raiser) a Form AF-115 (Authority to Purchase Goods and Services from Activity Funds). The principal must sign both forms before any fundraising activities may commence.
• Teachers must turn in monies to Fonville's General Clerk on any day in which at least $20.00 has been collected and must submit all money collected during the week of the fundraiser by week's end.

Docket Entry No. 54-1 ¶ 2. The August training included only one new instruction to supplement these rules, which was that in accordance with new state regulations, teachers could not fundraise by selling certain "foods of minimal nutritional value, " like candy. Id. ¶ 4. In September 2009, Mayeaux received an email from Fonville's business manager reminding her and other employees to comply with the school's fundraising procedures. A month later, Mayeaux conducted a fundraiser in compliance with those procedures.

During January 2010, Ibarra heard from parents of Mayeaux's JROTC students who were upset that the students would not be travelling to an out-of-town competition. It soon became clear that for the students to attend the event, Mayeaux would need to conduct another fundraiser. After a meeting with the parents and Mayeaux, Ibarra told Mayeaux that "if not for your military service obligations, you would not be in the situation you are in now." Docket Entry No. 57-2 ¶ 6. Mayeaux responded that she would not let Ibarra use her military service against her. Id.

Mayeaux decided to launch a candy-bar fundraiser, and submitted a Form AF-108 and a Form AF-115 to purchase the chocolate on January 26. Mayeaux's Form AF-108 was initially incomplete, and Fonville's secretary corrected it on February 1. Ibarra did not sign either form. Docket Entry No. 54-1 ¶¶ 9, 10.

On February 2, Ibarra noticed a student selling the chocolates that Mayeaux had requested permission to purchase but that Ibarra had not yet approved. Ibarra confronted Mayeaux and she admitted that she had already started selling candy bars to raise money for the JROTC program. A week later, Ibarra wrote Mayeaux a memorandum informing her that she was conducting an unauthorized fundraiser. Docket Entry No. 54-10. Mayeaux did not have an invoice for the chocolate purchase when Ibarra requested one, nor had she submitted any money from the previous week's chocolate sales to Fonville's General Clerk. After Ibarra asked to see where Mayeaux was storing the money from the chocolate sale, she produced a lock box in her classroom containing $1, 335.15, which she explained came from funds earned through a variety of JROTC activities. Docket Entry No. 54-1 ¶ 13.

Ibarra then began investigating a separate fundraising activity involving jacket sales to JROTC students. He discovered that Mayeaux had been selling jackets to staff members for a discounted price without Ibarra's authorization. Additionally, she had not kept detailed records of the jackets she had sold or assigned to students for temporary use. Ibarra asked Mayeaux to complete an inventory of all equipment in her possession, an inventory of the jackets, and an explanation of why she kept an excess of $50.00 in a lock box without ...

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