METROPOLITAN TRANSIT AUTHORITY OF HARRIS COUNTY, TEXAS, Appellant
ZELMA RIDLEY, Appellee
Appeal from the 152nd District Court Harris County, Texas
Trial Court Case No. 2014-39332
consists of Chief Justice Radack and Justices Keyes and
Radack Chief Justice.
Zelma Ridley was an employee of defendant-appellant
Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (Metro).
Ridley sued Metro, alleging disparate-treatment
discrimination and retaliatory conduct leading to
constructive discharge. The trial court denied Metro's
Plea to the Jurisdiction, and Metro brought this
interlocutory appeal. Because Ridley did not establish a
prima facie case on either of her claims, the trial court
lacked jurisdiction over her claims. Accordingly, we vacate
the trial court's order and dismiss the appeal for lack
is an African American female who was 65 years old when she
filed the underlying lawsuit in 2015.
hired Ridley in May 2008 as its Director of Transportation
Service Delivery, a newly created position. She was hired on
the recommendation of the Senior Director of Transportation,
T. Mobley, also an African American female.
than a month later, Ridley was put on a list to be terminated
as part of a "reduction in force." Mobley
intervened, in light of the fact Ridley had just been hired
into a new position. Ridley alleges that, although she was
able to keep her job, "she has been subjected to
continuing harassment since that time."
2008 through May 2010, F. Wilson was Metro's CEO. During
that time period, A. Skabowski was elevated from his position
as a supervisor in the quality control department to
Executive Vice President of Metro. Ridley's petition
alleges that Skabowski "has had numerous complaints
filed against him for both racial and gender
discrimination." It also alleges that Skabowski
regularly engaged in discriminatory conduct towards Ridley
until May 2010, when there was a reprieve. The change was
brought about by Wilson's resigning as CEO in May 2010 on
the heels of a grand jury investigation into document
destruction and violation of "Buy America" laws.
Greanias replaced Wilson as CEO in May 2010, and Ridley
alleges that, for a time, Skabowski's discriminatory
conduct towards her was contained while Greanias held that
2011, Ridley's department relocated offices. All other
Directors and Senior Directors were given offices on the
second floor. After the move, all the other Directors'
and Senior Directors' offices were set up for them, i.e.,
boxes unpacked, files placed in file cabinets, etc. In
contrast, Ridley was given a small office on the first floor
that was not large enough to accommodate her office
furniture. Her items were left on her desk for her to unpack
without assistance. For the next two years, Ridley endured,
and complained about, her office being "stifling hot in
the summer and extremely cold in the winter with no
solution" offered. In 2013, it was discovered that the
duct work to her office had never been connected.
alleges that her office placement was part of a course of
harassment against her. The person in charge of the office
relocation program was a white male who had been considered
for the position of Director of Transportation, but was
passed over when Ridley was selected instead.
December 2012, Greanias resigned as CEO, and Skabowski
immediately resumed his discriminatory actions toward Ridley.
For example, in early 2013, Skabowski asked for someone to
confirm Sylvester Turner's plans for an event. Because
Ridley had handled Turner's events in previous years, she
called Turner's office and sent an email asking for
details. According to Ridley's petition, "Skabowski
subsequently said that there had been a complaint from
Turner's office that [Ridley] had been contacting them
excessively; however, when [Ridley] checked with Turner's
office administrator she confirmed that there has been no
such complaint from Turner's office."
April 2013, Skabowski told Mobley that (1) Mobley could no
longer delegate her authority to Ridley when absent, (2)
Ridley should be placed on a Personal Improvement Plan (PIP)
for "communication issues, " and (3) Mobley was not
to tell Ridley about Skabowski's criticisms of Ridley.
Mobley reported to the Vice President of Human Resources, K.
Kaufman, Mobley's "belief that Skabowski's
criticisms of Ridley were because of Ridley's race and
gender, " and she sought guidance about how she was
supposed to place Ridley on a PIP without being able to
disclose Skabowski's criticisms or how to improve.
and Ridley met with Kaufman and M. Moore (another HR
representative) to implement Ridley's PIP plan. According
to Ridley's petition, the plan had "no objectives
instead it consisted of a '360' which is a subjective
review by other managers." Ridley voiced her objection
to participation because "all of the other senior
managers are white and influenced by Skabowski."
thereafter, Skabowski terminated Mobley's employment.
Ridley, as Director of Transportation Service Delivery,
alleges that she would normally be appointed as interim
Senior Director of Transportation Service Delivery. Instead,
Skabowski appointed R. Augustine, a white male who was
Ridley's subordinate. Ridley asserts that Augustine had
previously sued Metro, alleging he was not treated as well as
African American employees.
after becoming Senior Director, Augustine began undermining
Ridley's authority by meeting with employees under
Ridley's supervision without notifying her.
2013 - Ridley's Formal Discrimination Charge
September 16, 2013, Ridley made a formal Charge of
Discrimination with Metro's internal EEO office,
complaining about race, gender, and age discrimination.
Ridley alleges that she took this action in part because
Kaufman and Moore failed to take any action on her complaints
at their meeting about her PIP.
alleges that, in response to her charge, she was interviewed
by Metro's outside counsel for several hours; he was not
interested in her complaints, but only in convincing her she
had not suffered discrimination. Ridley hired an attorney
after the interview who requested to be present at any future
interview. Nonetheless, Ridley was questioned again by a
Metro lawyer D. Richard, the Vice President of Title VI, EEO
and Diversity, without Ridley's counsel present.
2013 - Ridley's Annual Performance Review
November 12, 2013, Ridley's annual performance review was
conducted by Augustine. For the first time ever, she was
rated as "not meeting the requirement of the job"
in every category. In all past performance reviews at Metro,
Ridley had been rated either "meeting" or
"exceeding" the job requirements in every category.
At the time of the November review, Augustine had only been
Ridley's supervisor for three months, but she alleges it
was clear to her "based on an earlier email, " that
"the comments in the review came from Skabowski."
petition alleges that she had never been disciplined or had
any performance issues until she complained of
Skabowski's treatment of her.
18, 2013 - EEOC Charge of Discrimination
November 2013, Ridley filed a Charge of Discrimination with
the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission/Texas Workforce
Commission-Civil Rights Division. At the time Ridley's
underlying petition in this case was filed on July 9, 2014,
she alleged that more than 180 days had passed without a
final decision from the EEOC.
promoted four individuals to Service Supervisors, a position
that had always reported to Ridley as Director of
Transportation Service Delivery. These new employees were
told instead to report directly to Augustine. Ridley was not
involved in the interview process of these four employees.
was on FMLA leave between January 31, 2014 and March 17,
2014. When she returned to work March 17, she was told she
needed a formal doctor's release before she could return.
She obtained and provided that release to Metro the following
day, Wednesday, March 18; the only restrictions placed by the
doctor in the release to return to work were for her to wear
tennis shoes and "limited walking and standing."
While she was working on March 18, the HR department notified
her she was being sent home because Augustine would not let
her return to work under those restrictions.
petition alleges that she has an office job that does not
require walking or standing for any extended period. She
contends that her treatment was "clearly retaliation by
Augustine, because as managers [Ridley] and Augustine have to
deal with employees who have medical restrictions all the
time." Ridley alleges that she was only allowed to
return to work after her attorney called Metro's in-house
attorney to complain about the retaliation.
gave Ridley a mid-year, May 1, 2014 Performance Appraisal,
the purpose of which is to discuss an employee's progress
towards goals and objectives set forth in his or her annual
evaluation. Despite a lack of goals or objectives set out in
Ridley's earlier annual evaluation, Augustine rated her
performance as needing improvement. Ridley was again placed
on a PIP, which she alleges was "an obvious attempt to
humiliate [her] and to burden her to such an extent that she
would quit." In addition to her regular Director duties,
the PIP called for her to-on alternating weeks-(1) spend 8
hours on a ride-along with a supervisor and fill out a route
training form, and (2) spend an 8-hour shift with a
bus-control employee. Ridley was not given direction as to
what these tasks were designed to accomplish, and they
required her to report to her subordinates.
also called for bi-weekly meetings between Ridley and
Augustine. Following the May 1, 2014 Performance Appraisal,
however, Augustine did not meet with Ridley until June 23,
2014. Ridley alleges that it was clear at this meeting that
Augustine had no idea what Ridley had done to comply with the
PIP. He had not reviewed the "route training" logs
he told her to complete, and he did not realize that Ridley
had not been given any kind of log or documentation to
complete during her bus control shifts. As described in
The items Augustine had required the Plaintiff to perform as
part of the PIP had absolutely no relationship to her job
description as the Director of Transportation. When Plaintiff
pointed that out to Augustine he replied that a new job
description was coming. When Plaintiff tasked what was the
duration of the PIP (i.e. how long she was going to be
required to work extra shifts that had nothing to do with her
job) Augustine replied that it was "open ended."
Plaintiff had worked as senior management at Metro for six
years and had never heard of an "open ended" PIP.
Concerns and Ridley's Retirement
August 2014, Ridley went to the emergency room suspecting a
heart attack. Testing revealed heart palpitations and rapid
heartbeat that Ridley alleged was brought on "by stress
from her work situation." Her doctor prescribed
anti-anxiety medication and recommended that Ridley take
petition asserts that Augustine continued to harass her over
the next few months, accusing her of not completing all of
her extra ...