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Carter v. Hegar

Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin

May 25, 2018

Angela Jo Carter, Appellant
v.
The Honorable Glenn Hegar, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, Appellee

          FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF TRAVIS COUNTY, 345TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT NO. D-1-GN-14-000943, HONORABLE LORA J. LIVINGSTON, JUDGE PRESIDING

          Before Chief Justice Rose, Justices Pemberton and Goodwin

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Jeff Rose, Chief Justice

         Angelo Jo Carter sued the Honorable Glenn Hegar, Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, for disability-based employment discrimination and retaliation under the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Comptroller filed a plea to the jurisdiction and motion for summary judgment based on sovereign immunity. The trial court granted the Comptroller's plea and motion, dismissing both Carter's TCHRA and ADA claims. On appeal, Carter challenges the trial court's order as to her TCHRA claims. We will affirm the trial court's judgment.

         Background

         Between 1977 and 2009, Carter worked off and on-approximately ten years total-for the Comptroller in various positions, including data-entry operator and HUB compliance and certification analyst.[1] According to Carter, she was an exemplary Comptroller employee who consistently received excellent performance reviews. Carter left the Comptroller for the final time in 2010 after taking a medical leave of absence related to her having bipolar disorder.

         In 2012, Carter applied for a position as a HUB Certification specialist at the Comptroller. After an internal screening process eliminated a number of less qualified applicants, Carter and one other applicant were asked to interview in front of a four-person panel consisting of the manager over the vacant position, Paul Gibson, and Comptroller employees Suzette Ballenger, Ricardo Perez, and Allen Roberts. During the separate, live interviews, the panel members asked the applicants the same job-related questions and scored the applicant's responses to the questions based on parameters defined on a Comptroller-approved interview sheet. Those scores were later tallied and averaged to generate a final interview score for each applicant. The applicant with the highest average interview score, which was not Carter, was hired for the position.

         After not being hired for the position, Carter sued the Comptroller for violations of the TCHRA and the ADA. See generally Tex. Lab. Code §§ 21.001-.556 (TCHRA); 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 12101-12213 (ADA). In her pleadings, Carter alleged that the Comptroller discriminated against her by hiring a less qualified applicant and basing that decision on the Comptroller's mistaken belief that Carter's bipolar disorder and clinical depression would prevent her from properly performing the job at issue. According to Carter, at least three of the panel members (including Gibson) knew about her disability and leave history, and Gibson told the three other panel members to adjust their scores for the applicants because "of Angie Carter's past and it would be difficult to work with her again, so it would just be hard for them to consider her."

         The Comptroller vigorously disputes Carter's characterization of the events and filed a plea to the jurisdiction and motion for summary judgment to challenge Carter's claims. These motions assert that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over Carter's TCHRA and ADA claims because Carter failed to demonstrate a prima facie case for her claims and, thus, had failed to show there had been a waiver of sovereign immunity. The Comptroller also argued that Carter could not meet her burden to prove that the Comptroller's legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons were mere pretext for the discriminatory motive. The trial court agreed, granting both the Comptroller's plea to the jurisdiction and motion for summary judgment, and issued an order dismissing Carter's claims. Carter challenges that ruling.

         Discussion

         Carter raises two issues on appeal: (1) the trial court erred in granting the Comptroller's plea to the jurisdiction as to her TCHRA claims because "the Comptroller's sovereign immunity was not established as a matter of law"; and (2) the trial court erred in granting the Comptroller's motion for summary judgment as to her TCHRA claims because there were genuine issues of material fact regarding each challenged element of her claims. Carter does not appeal the trial court's ruling as it relates to her ADA claims.

         Standard of review

         The State and its agencies, including the Comptroller here, are immune from suit unless the State consents. See Alamo Heights Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Clark, S.W.3d, No. 16-0244, 2018 WL 169, at *7 (Tex. April 6, 2018) (citing Mission Consol. Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Garcia, 372 S.W.3d 629, 636 (Tex. 2012); Texas Dep't of Parks & Wildlife v. Miranda, 133 S.W.3d 217, 224 (Tex. 2004)). The TCHRA waives immunity, but only when the plaintiff states a claim for conduct that actually violates the statute. Id. (citing Mission, 372 S.W.3d at 637 (citing Tex. Lab. Code § 21.254)).

         Immunity from suit may be asserted through a plea to the jurisdiction or other procedural vehicle, such as a motion for summary judgment. Id. (citing Bland Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Blue, 34 S.W.3d 547, 554 (Tex. 2000)). A jurisdictional plea may challenge the pleadings, the existence of jurisdictional facts, or both. When a jurisdictional plea challenges the pleadings, we determine if the plaintiff has alleged facts affirmatively demonstrating subject-matter jurisdiction. Id. (citing Miranda, 133 S.W.3d at 227). If, however, the plea challenges the existence of jurisdictional facts, we must move beyond the pleadings and consider evidence when necessary to resolve the ...


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