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Zavala v. Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

August 2, 2017

MARIA ZAVALA, Plaintiff,
v.
CARROLLTON-FARMERS BRANCH INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SIDNEY A. FITZWATER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         In this employment discrimination action by plaintiff Maria Zavala (“Zavala”) against defendant Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District (“CFBISD”), CFBISD moves for summary judgment dismissing Zavala's claims for retaliatory hostile work environment under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and race-and/or national origin-based discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (“Title VII”), 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. For the reasons that follow, the court grants CFBISD's motion and dismisses this action by judgment filed today.

         I

         The court detailed the facts of this case in its prior memorandum opinion and order, Zavala v. Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District, 2017 WL 274133, at *1 (N.D. Tex. Jan. 20, 2017) (Fitzwater, J.) (“Zavala I”), and will only recount the factual background and procedural history that are necessary to understand this decision. In Zavala I the court dismissed Zavala's claims for hostile work environment under the ADA-stemming from her husband's complaint against CFBISD to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission-and for hostile work environment under Title VII, but granted her leave to replead. Id. at *6. After CFBISD moved for summary judgment on the entire case, Zavala filed an amended complaint asserting only claims for retaliatory hostile work environment under the ADA and race-and/or national origin-based discrimination based on disparate treatment under Title VII.[1]

         II

         When a summary judgment movant will not have the burden of proof on a claim at trial, it can obtain summary judgment by pointing the court to the absence of evidence on any essential element of the nonmovant's claim. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once it does so, the nonmovant must go beyond her pleadings and designate specific facts demonstrating that there is a genuine issue for trial. See Id. at 324; Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (en banc) (per curiam). An issue is genuine if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmovant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The nonmovant's failure to produce proof as to any essential element renders all other facts immaterial. See TruGreen Landcare, L.L.C. v. Scott, 512 F.Supp.2d 613, 623 (N.D. Tex. 2007) (Fitzwater, J.). Summary judgment is mandatory where the nonmovant fails to meet this burden. Little, 37 F.3d at 1076.

         III

         The court begins with Zavala's ADA-based retaliatory hostile work environment claim.

         A

         As the court discussed in Zavala I, the Fifth Circuit has neither recognized nor foreclosed retaliatory hostile work environment claims. See Fallon v. Potter, 277 Fed.Appx. 422, 424 (5th Cir. 2008) (per curiam). At least five other circuits recognize such a cause of action. Bryan v. Chertoff, 217 Fed.Appx. 289, 293 n.3 (5th Cir. 2007) (per curiam) (“At least the Second, Sixth, Seventh, Ninth, and Tenth Circuits have adopted this cause of action.”). Given the absence of binding authority, courts in the Fifth Circuit have assumed that a retaliatory hostile work environment claim can be brought. See Rowe v. Jewell, 88 F.Supp.3d 647, 673 (E.D. La. 2015) (“[T]his court will assume, as other district courts in this circuit have done, that [plaintiff] has a cause of action for a retaliatory hostile work environment.); see also Tejada v. Travis Ass'n for the Blind, 2014 WL 2881450, at *3 (W.D. Tex. June 25, 2014).[2]

         Generally, to succeed under the ADA on a claim for disability-based workplace harassment, a plaintiff must demonstrate:

(1) that she belongs to a protected group; (2) that she was subjected to unwelcome harassment; (3) that the harassment complained of was based on her disability or disabilities; (4) that the harassment complained of affected a term, condition, or privilege of employment; and (5) that the employer knew or should have known of the harassment and failed to take prompt, remedial action.

Flowers v. S. Reg'l Physician Servs. Inc., 247 F.3d 229, 235-36 (5th Cir. 2001). The legal standard for workplace harassment is “high.” Gowesky v. Singing River Hosp. Sys., 321 F.3d 503, 509 (5th Cir. 2003). But for claims for a retaliatory hostile environment, district courts in this circuit follow a modified approach:

[T]he first and third elements [of a prima facie case] have a different focus. In the retaliation context, the first element would require proof that the plaintiff had engaged in protected activity, and the third element would require demonstration of a causal ...

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