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McIntyre v. San Antonio Water System

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, San Antonio Division

April 26, 2017

JASON MCINTYRE, Plaintiff,
v.
SAN ANTONIO WATER SYSTEM, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Royce C. Lamberth, United States District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff Jason Mclntyre challenges his administrative separation from defendant San Antonio Water System (SAWS) as a discriminatory violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. (Title VII) and the Americans with Disabilities Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 etseq. (ADA). Defendant has moved for summary judgment. Before the Court is defendant's motion [ECF No. 24] for summary judgment, Mclntyre's response [ECF No. 26], and defendant's reply [ECF No. 27]. For the reasons articulated below, the Court finds that the motion for summary judgment should be GRANTED.

         II. BACKGROUND

         In 2004, SAWS hired Mclntyre to work as a Graduate Engineer I. Graduate engineers were responsible for assisting in the planning and implementation of engineering projects for SAWS. SAWS Position Description [ECF No. 24-3] 6. The position required work in both an office environment and in the field. Id. Mclntyre performed that position until August 2014. Mclntyre Depo. [ECF No. 24-2] 17. He has not performed work of any kind since August 2014, nor has he sought any other work since August 2014. Id.

         Mclntyre suffers from various medical conditions, including Crohn's disease, fibromyalgia, neuropathy, asthma, and high cholesterol. Mclntyre Depo. 18-19. According to Mclntyre, his Crohn's disease, fibromyalgia, and neuropathy kept him from working beginning in August 2014. Id. Similarly, his doctors have been unable to assess whether or when he would be able to return to work. Id. at 22. On August 19, 2014, Mclntyre began a leave of absence under the Family Medical Leave Act for a personal, non-occupational illness. Exhibit 3 [24-3]. Mclntyre's doctor certified that Mclntyre complained of fatigue and muscle pain and was "unable to perform any job function at this time." Id.

         As an employee of SAWS, Mclntyre was the beneficiary of a non-occupational illness policy that allows employees up to six months of unpaid leave. Ex. 4 [ECF No. 24-4]. The policy states:

• Pertains to any employee who is absent from work, or unable to perform the essential functions of their job duties for five (5) or more consecutive calendar days as a result of a health condition.
Consistent with SAWS Employee Handbook, the maximum amount of leave you will be granted is six months from the first day you are unable to perform the essential functions of your job. The six-month period includes any time taken under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which is a maximum of twelve (12) weeks, and any time you may spend on modified duty, not to exceed ninety (90) days. If you are unable to perform the essential functions of your current position at the expiration of six months and SAWS is unable to provide reasonable accommodation for you within that position as defined by the American's with Disabilities Act (ADA), your employment will be terminated. You may retire if eligible, or offer your resignation.

Id. According to the policy, therefore, if an employee is unable to perform the essential functions of their job position, reasonable accommodations will be made to allow them to return to work, as required by the ADA. Id. If no reasonable accommodations can be made, an employee who is unable to perform the essential functions of their job will be terminated. Id.

         On November 6, 2014, Mclntyre was still unable to return to work. SAWS notified Mclntyre that his FMLA leave, which began on August 18, 2014, had expired and that continued medical leave would be classified as non-FMLA leave of absence. Exhibit 5 [ECF No. 24-5]. Mclntyre did not return to work and remained on leave. On February 10, 2015, Mclntyre was approved for long-term disability, effective January 19, 2015, through a Principal Life Insurance Company policy with SAWS. Exhibit 7 [ECF No. 24-7]. He receives approximately $2, 600 per month. Mclntyre Depo. 23. A condition of long-term disability is Mclntyre's inability to work. Id. at 27. Indeed, SAWS was notified of Mclntyre's approval on February 18. Exhibit 6 [ECF No. 24-6]. On February 23, 2015, Mclntyre remained under doctors' care and had no estimated date for return to work. Id. On February 24, 2015, after more than six months on leave, SAWS terminated Mclntyre. Id. In the termination letter, SAWS stated that Mclntyre's six months of maximum leave had expired on February 18, 2015, and that Mclntyre's separation was based on this extended leave of absence. Id.

         On August 20, 2014-days after he first began his leave of absence-Mclntyre filed an EEOC charge alleging racial discrimination and hostile workplace environment. Specifically, Mclntyre claimed that he was reprimanded and placed on probation in July 2014 based on false allegations, that his whereabouts and activities at work were "closely monitored" and "overly scrutinized by management. Exhibit 8 [ECF No. 24-8]. On March 31, 2015-after Mclntyre's termination-the EEOC issued a notice of right to sue within ninety (90) days. Exhibit 9 [ECF NO. 24-9] ("Your lawsuit must be filed WITHIN 90 DAYS of your receipt of this notice; or your right to sue based on this charge will be lost."). On July 6, 2015, Mclntyre also obtained a notice of right to sue from the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC), referencing the same EEOC complaint. The TWC notice stated that Mclntyre has "SIXTY (60) DAYS FROM THE RECEIPT OF THIS NOTICE TO FILE THIS CIVIL ACTION." Exhibit 11 [ECF No. 24-11].[1]

         On September 8, 2015, Mclntyre filed a state suit alleging discrimination in violation of the Texas Labor Code. Exhibit 10 [ECF No. 24-10]. Mclntyre only claimed violations of Chapter 21 of the Texas Labor Code. Id. at p. 3 ("In this Petition, Plaintiff is not seeking any remedy under any federal statute."). Specifically, Mclntyre claimed that disparate treatment and hostile work environment were based on race. He also alleged that his termination was based on his race and disability, claiming defendant was unable to accommodate plaintiffs illness. Id. Mclntyre sought lost wages, mental pain and anguish damages, and reinstatement to his position or to an equivalent position.

         On December 16, 2015, the Bexar County District Court dismissed that case as untimely under Texas law because the suit was filed 161 days after the EEOC notice and 64 days after the TWC notice. Exhibit 12 [ECF No. 24-12]. The Bexar District Court held that it either lacked jurisdiction over Mclntyre's claims because Mclntyre's filing was untimely under Tex. Labor Code § 21.254, or-if the 60-day requirement is not jurisdictional prerequisite under Texas law (as is the case in federal Title VII cases)-dismissal was appropriate because failure to timely file resulted in the loss of a claim. Accordingly, the case was dismissed with prejudice. Id.

         Weeks later, on January 4, 2016, Mclntyre filed a second EEOC complaint. Exhibit 13 [ECF No. 24-13]. This second complaint alleged that Mclntyre's termination was due to a failure to accommodate, race discrimination, and in retaliation for his original EEOC complaint, which are violations of either Title VII or the ADA. Id. The EEOC issued a second notice of right to sue on January 25, 2016. On April 27, 2016, Mclntyre filed this suit, within the 90-day time limit for Title VII and ADA suits. As amended, Mclntyre's complaint includes claims for "unlawful employment practices, " including terminating Mclntyre for having complained of racial harassment and failing to accommodate him because of his disability. Am. Compl. [ECF No. 4] 2. Mclntyre alleges violations of Title VII for race discrimination, the ADA for failure to accommodate, and for retaliation of a protected activity.

         Defendant SAWS moved for summary judgment, arguing that Mclntyre's claims should be dismissed with prejudice under the doctrine ofres judicata, arguing that the claims in this action were known to Mclntyre at the time he brought his original case in Bexar County. Therefore, SAWS argues, the claims here either were or could have been raised in that action, and Mclntyre should be barred from raising them in a subsequent action. Alternatively, SAWS argues that summary judgment is warranted because all claims-except the retaliation claims-are time barred under the appropriate statute of limitation. Regarding the retaliation claim, SAWS argues that SAWS had a legitimate, nondiscriminatory, and nonretaliatory reason in terminating Mclntyre and that Mclnytre cannot raise a question of fact as to pretext.

         III. LEGAL STANDARDS

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, a court must grant summary judgment "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247 (1986). The moving party bears the burden of establishing the lack of a genuine issue of material fact. Id. "[I]f the movant bears the burden of proof on an issue, either because he is the plaintiff or as a defendant he is asserting an affirmative defense, he must establish beyond peradventure all of the essential elements of the claim or defense to warrant judgment in his favor." Fontenot v. Upjohn Co., 780 F.2d 1190, 1194 (5th Cir. 1986). If the movant does not bear the burden of proof at trial, he is entitled to summary judgment if he can point to an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the nonmoving party's case. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Similarly, a movant without the burden of proof at trial may be entitled to summary judgment if sufficient evidence "negates" an essential element. Id. The lack of proof as to an essential element renders all other facts immaterial. Id.

         A fact is material if it could affect the outcome of a case. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247. A dispute is genuine if the evidence is such that "a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Id. To survive summary judgment, a nonmoving party must present specific facts or evidence that would allow a reasonable factfinder to find in his favor on a material issue. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247. However, merely asserting a factual dispute or conclusory denials of the allegations raised by the moving party is insufficient; the nonmoving party must come forward with competent evidence. Id. at 249-250. The nonmoving party may set forth specific facts by submitting affidavits or other evidence that demonstrates the ...


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