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Alamo Community College District v. Ryan

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourth District, San Antonio

November 1, 2017

Douglas RYAN, Appellee

         From the 131st Judicial District Court, Bexar County, Texas Trial Court No. 2013-CI-18732 Honorable Renée Yanta, Judge Presiding

          Sitting: Marialyn Barnard, Justice, Rebeca C. Martinez, Justice, Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice.


          Luz Elena D. Chapa, Justice.

         This is an accelerated interlocutory appeal from the trial court's order partially denying Alamo Community College District's (ACCD) motion for summary judgment on Douglas Ryan's employment discrimination claims. We hold ACCD conclusively established the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the claims because Ryan's charge of discrimination was not filed within 180 days after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's order and render judgment dismissing Ryan's suit for lack of jurisdiction.


         ACCD is a junior college district comprised of five colleges, including Northwest Vista College. Ryan was appointed to a full-time probationary faculty position at Northwest Vista College in 2008. A year later, Ryan was placed on tenure track, also a probationary position. Ryan's performance was evaluated yearly, and his nine-month contract was renewed each academic year until 2012.

         In 2012, Ryan's supervisors recommended his contract not be renewed. The recommendation was based on Ryan's performance evaluations, disciplinary action due to "problematic interpersonal relations, " and Ryan's alleged failure to take remedial steps to address these issues. On June 28, 2012, Dr. Jacqueline Claunch, the president of Northwest Vista College, sent Ryan a letter notifying him that his probationary faculty appointment with Northwest Vista College would not be renewed. The letter stated Ryan was being offered a "terminal year contract" for the 2012-2013 academic year. The letter advised that if Ryan accepted the terminal year contract, his "Alamo Colleges employment will cease upon completion of the Spring 2013 semester" and, pursuant to ACCD Procedure D.2.5.1, Ryan would "not be eligible for adjunct appointment following non-renewal of [his] probationary appointment." Ryan received the letter from Dr. Claunch on July 5, 2012. He accepted the terminal contract for the 2012-13 academic year, but he also filed an administrative appeal or grievance of the notification of nonrenewal. On September 27, 2012, Dr. Bruce Leslie, Chancellor of ACCD, ruled that "the non-renewal decision is not reversed."

         Ryan sent a complaint letter to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) on January 31, 2013, and on March 8, 2013, he filed a charge of discrimination with the Texas Workforce Commission-Civil Rights Division (TWC). Both documents asserted Ryan received notice of the employment decisions on July 5, 2012. And both documents complained of the non- renewal, the terminal year contract, and the ineligibility for future appointment as an adjunct, alleging these actions discriminated against him on the bases of race, gender, and age. After receiving right to sue notices from the EEOC and the TWC, Ryan filed suit.

         Ryan's petition alleged ACCD committed an unlawful employment practice by discriminating against him on the basis of sex, race, and age, and alleged claims only under the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA). ACCD filed a motion for summary judgment on multiple grounds, including lack of subject matter jurisdiction. ACCD asserted that Ryan failed to file an administrative complaint alleging discrimination within 180 days of the adverse employment action and that compliance with the filing deadline is a jurisdictional prerequisite to suit. See id. Tex. Labor Code Ann. § 21.202 (West 2015). Ryan's response to the jurisdictional challenge in the motion for summary judgment asserted that Dr. Claunch's June 28, 2012 letter was merely a "proposal" or a "notice of an intended adverse action." Ryan argued that because he grieved the notice by appealing to the chancellor, "[t]he action did not become an adverse action until the Chancellor denied his grievance on September 27, 2012, " and his administrative charge of discrimination was timely filed within 180 days of that action.

         After a hearing solely on the jurisdictional ground asserted in ACCD's motion for summary judgment, the trial court signed an order partially granting the motion. The order states that ACCD's motion for summary judgment "is GRANTED as to all claims EXCEPT Plaintiff Douglas Ryan's claim that Alamo Community College District violated the Texas Labor Code by barring Plaintiff Douglas Ryan from being employed as an instructor at all Alamo Community College District campuses, not just the Northwest Vista Campus." ACCD filed a timely interlocutory appeal of the order that partially denied the jurisdictional ground in its motion for summary judgment.[1] See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 51.014(a)(8) (West Supp. 2016); Thomas v. Long, 207 S.W.3d 334, 339-40 (Tex. 2006).


         The sole issue before us is the trial court's summary judgment ruling that it has jurisdiction over Ryan's claim. We review a summary judgment de novo, taking as true all evidence favorable to the respondent and indulging all reasonable inferences and resolving any doubts in the respondent's favor. Provident Life & Acc. Ins. v. Knott, 128 S.W.3d 211, 215 (Tex. 2003). The issue of whether a court has subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law that we review de novo. City of Dallas v. Carbajal, 324 S.W.3d 537, 538 (Tex. 2010) (per curiam).

         The TCHRA requires a plaintiff to file an administrative complaint with the TWC or the EEOC "not later than the 180th day after the date the alleged unlawful employment practice occurred." Tex. Labor Code Ann. 21.202(a) (West 2015). The provision is mandatory. Specialty Retailers, Inc. v. DeMoranville, 933 S.W.2d 490, 492 (Tex. 1996). Compliance with the 180-day administrative filing requirement is a statutory prerequisite to suit, and failure to comply with it is a jurisdictional bar to a suit against a governmental entity. Prairie View A&M Univ. v. Chatha, 381 S.W.3d 500, 510-14 (Tex. 2012); see Tex. Gov't Code Ann. § 311.034 (West 2013). An unlawful employment practice occurs "when a discriminatory employment decision is made-not when the effects of that decision become manifest in later events." Chatha, 381 S.W.3d at 503. The "180-day limitations period in the TCHRA begins 'when the employee is informed of the allegedly discriminatory employment decision.'" Id. at 509 (quoting Specialty Retailers, 933 S.W.2d at 493). In order to invoke the jurisdiction of the trial court, Ryan was therefore required to file his administrative charge of discrimination with the EEOC or the TWC within 180 days of being informed of the allegedly discriminatory employment decision.

         Ryan's suit complains of the decision not to renew his contract and to instead offer him a one year terminal contract, after which he would not be eligible for rehire by ACCD as an adjunct. The undisputed evidence establishes that Ryan received Dr. Claunch's June 28 letter no later than July 5. The evidence is also undisputed that Ryan did not file an administrative charge with the TWC or the EEOC within 180 days of July 5. However, Ryan did ...

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