Court of Appeals of Texas, Thirteenth District, Corpus Christi-Edinburg
appeal from the County Court at Law No. 6 of Hidalgo County,
Justices Rodriguez, Contreras, and Hinojosa
LETICIA HINOJOSA JUSTICE
David De La Cruz sued appellant the Texas Health and Human
Services Commission (HHSC), alleging employment
discrimination on the basis of gender. See Tex. Lab.
Code Ann. § 21.051(1) (West, Westlaw through 2017 1st
C.S.). HHSC appeals the trial court's denial of its plea
to the jurisdiction. By one issue, HHSC argues that the trial
court was deprived of subject matter jurisdiction because De
La Cruz failed to timely file his discrimination complaint
with the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC). We affirm.
Cruz worked for HHSC from 2008 through his termination on
April 23, 2014. De La Cruz filed an "Employment
Discrimination Complaint Form" (Complaint Form) with the
TWC 176 days later, on October 16, 2014, alleging that his
termination was motivated by gender. The Complaint Form
contained the following question: "If we draft your
charge and send it to you at your email address, will you
print, sign, and return the form that same day?" De La
Cruz indicated "Yes" by checking the appropriate
box. De La Cruz later filed a "Charge of
Discrimination" (Charge Form) with the TWC on October
27, 2014. The Charge Form, which was filed 187 days following
De La Cruz's termination, contained the same
discrimination allegations as the earlier Complaint Form.
However, unlike the Complaint Form, it contained a section in
which De La Cruz "declare[d] under penalty of
perjury" that the allegations in the Charge Form were
"true and correct."
issued a dismissal and notice of right to sue letter on
December 30, 2014. De La Cruz filed the present cause of
action on February 25, 2015. HHSC filed a plea to the
jurisdiction, arguing that De La Cruz's failure to file a
sworn complaint within 180 days of his termination deprived
the trial court of subject matter jurisdiction. The trial
court denied HHSC's plea to the
jurisdiction. This interlocutory appeal followed.
See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. §
51.014(a)(8) (West, Westlaw through 2017 1st C.S.).
STANDARD OF REVIEW
to the jurisdiction is a dilatory plea; its purpose is
"to defeat a cause of action without regard to whether
the claims asserted have merit." Bland Indep. Sch.
Dist. v. Blue, 34 S.W.3d 547, 554 (Tex. 2000). The plea
challenges the trial court's subject matter jurisdiction
over a pleaded cause of action. Tex. Dep't of Parks
& Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 226 (Tex.
2004). Subject matter jurisdiction is a question of law;
therefore, when the determinative facts are undisputed, we
review the trial court's ruling on a plea to the
jurisdiction de novo. Id. "Sovereign immunity
deprives a trial court of jurisdiction over lawsuits in which
the state or certain governmental units have been sued,
unless the state consents to suit. As a result, immunity is
properly asserted in a plea to the jurisdiction."
Mission Consol. Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Garcia, 372
S.W.3d 629, 636 (Tex. 2012).
plea to the jurisdiction challenges the existence of
jurisdictional facts, a trial court's review
"mirrors that of a traditional summary judgment
motion." Id. at 635. The trial court must take
as true all evidence favorable to the nonmovant, indulging
every reasonable inference and resolving any doubts in the
nonmovant's favor. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d at 228.
The defendant carries the initial burden to meet the summary
judgment proof standard for its assertion that the trial
court lacks jurisdiction. Garcia, 372 S.W.3d at 635.
If it meets its burden, the plaintiff is then required to
show that a disputed material fact exists regarding the
jurisdictional issue. Id. If there is a fact
question regarding the jurisdictional issue, the trial court
must deny the plea to the jurisdiction. Miranda, 133
S.W.3d at 227-28. However, if the evidence is undisputed or
if the plaintiff fails to raise a fact question on the
jurisdictional issue, the trial court rules on the plea to
the jurisdiction as a matter of law. Id. at 228.
TIMELINESS OF COMPLAINT
argues that "De La Cruz's failure to file a
complaint with the TWC within 180 days of his termination
bars his suit on sovereign immunity grounds." De La Cruz
responds that his verified Charge Form "related back
to-and satisfied any deficiency with-the unverified Complaint
Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA) provides the
framework for employment discrimination claims in Texas.
Prairie View A & M Univ. v. Chatha, 381 S.W.3d
500, 502-03 (Tex. 2012); see Tex. Lab. Code Ann. ch.
21 (West, Westlaw through 2017 1st C.S.). An employer
violates the TCHRA if the employer "fails or refuses to
hire an individual, discharges an individual, or
discriminates in any other manner against an individual in
connection with compensation or the terms, conditions, or
privileges of employment" because of the employee's
gender. Tex. Lab. Code Ann. § 21.051(1). A claimant
under the TCHRA must file a discrimination complaint within
180 days of the alleged unlawful employment action.
Id. § 21.202(a). The complaint must be in