Appeal from the 270th District Court Harris County, Texas
Trial Court Case No. 2015-63281
consists of Justices Higley, Brown, and Caughey.
Carter Higley Justice
an employment-discrimination case. Jeanne Hartranft sued her
former employer, UT Health Science Center-Houston (UTHealth),
alleging it had engaged in racial and gender discrimination
against her and had retaliated against her for opposing
discriminatory practices in the workplace. Hartranft claimed
that the discriminatory and retaliatory practices had created
a hostile work environment, resulting in her constructive
filed a traditional motion for summary judgment, asserting
that its proffered evidence established that Hartranft's
claims fail as a matter of law. After Hartranft responded,
offering her own evidence, the trial court granted the motion
in UTHealth's favor. On appeal, Hartranft raises four
issues to challenge the summary judgment. Because we hold
that the summary judgment was properly granted in
UTHealth's favor as to Hartranft's
gender-discrimination claim, but it was improperly granted as
to the remainder of her claims, we affirm the judgment in
part and reverse in part and remand.
Hartranft, who is Caucasian, was hired on March 3, 2014, by
UTHealth to work as a telephone-triage nurse. After working
in the position for approximately four months, Hartranft
resigned. After her resignation, Hartranft filed suit,
asserting that her UTHealth supervisor, David Riley, who is
African American, subjected her to harassment, threats of
physical violence, and abusive treatment based on her gender
and race. Hartranft further asserted that Riley treated other
non-African- American female nurses in the same manner.
Hartranft claimed that the only African American female nurse
in the telephone-triage department was not subjected to the
same ill-treatment but was instead treated with respect and
given preferential treatment.
avers that she verbally complained about Riley's abusive
treatment to UTHealth human-resources representative Sandra
Kelley and to Dr. Tyson, the department manager. However,
Hartranft contends that her complaints were disregarded.
Caucasian triage nurse, Christie Carver, sent a written
grievance to Dr. Tyson and to Kelley. Carver informed Kelley
and Dr. Tyson that "hostile working conditions" had
been "allowed to persist" in the telephone triage
office. She alleged that the nurses had been "targets of
David Riley's volatile temper, bullying, and
also stated that Riley's behavior resulted in "a
stressful and unhealthy working environment," that she
"constantly worr[ied]" about herself and her team
members, and that the threat of Riley's "explosive
temper" kept her "on edge." She also described
several specific instances during which Riley became angry
with individual nurses for asking job-related questions.
Carver said that, during one such incident, Riley told her
the answer to her question was "in the policy" and
to use her nursing judgment. When she told him she only
wanted to do a good job, Riley had ordered her into the
hallway. She said that she was frightened "by
[Riley's] irate pointing, tone and gestures as he told me
that I was the only one confused and I was
another occasion, Carver and another nurse, Nancy Perkins,
were discussing policy when Riley "exploded into a huge
outburst at Nancy," yelling from across the room
"no more sidebar conversations!" Then, during a
meeting, Riley "lost it" when Nancy Perkins
explained something to him. "Riley wildly kicked a chair
and waved his arms as he loudly yelled at [Nancy
stated that Monica Smith, Riley's supervisor, witnessed
Riley's outburst at the meeting. Carver reported that she
also told Smith that Riley had frightened her. She said that
Smith was "dismissive" of her concerns. Carver
averred that Smith "failed to address [the] problems
[with Riley] or take corrective action to ensure a violent
free, productive and supportive training and work
environment." Carver also said in her grievance that she
"spoke to Human Resources who agreed to address my
concerns" but nothing had changed.
response to Carver's grievance, Dr. Tyson conducted an
investigation. As part of the investigation, Dr. Tyson
interviewed a number of the triage nurses. Hartranft was one
of the nurses interviewed. Hartranft would later testify that
she told Tyson that Riley had nearly hit her in the face
during the meeting, albeit unintentionally, when he became
angry with Perkins. When he kicked his chair back and lunged
toward Perkins, Riley made what Hartranft described as a
"tomahawk chop" motion with his arm, almost
striking Hartranft. Hartranft testified that she had
described this to Tyson, but Dr. Tyson immediately had
characterized Riley's action "just . . . pointing
down at the ground." Hartranft said that she then
corrected Dr. Tyson, reiterating that Riley had made a
report summarizing the findings of her investigation, Dr.
Tyson concluded that Riley presented no threat to Carver or
the other nurses. Dr. Tyson found that the nurses interviewed
"do not feel scared" of Riley, "nor do they
feel unsafe in any way." She also explained that, in her
interviews, she had asked each nurse if Riley had
"discussed sexual activities; told off-color jokes
concerning race, sex, disability, or other protected classes;
engaged in unnecessary touching; commented on physical
attributes; displayed sexually suggestive, or racially
insensitive pictures; used demeaning or inappropriate terms,
or epithets; used indecent gestures; used crude language;
sabotaged anyone's work; or engaged in hostile physical
conduct." Dr. Tyson stated that each nurse interviewed
"gave a resounding 'No' to each one."
Tyson also concluded that Riley's supervisor, Smith, had
acted appropriately. She stated that Smith had not been
dismissive of Carver's concerns or of Riley's
behavior. Dr. Tyson wrote that she had learned that, after
the meeting in which Riley had kicked his chair and yelled at
Perkins, Smith had met with Riley and Perkins. Dr. Tyson said
that Smith had reported that they talked about each
person's side and that Riley and Perkins had then
apologized to one another.
Tyson learned that Carver intended to appeal her response.
She also learned that Carver had emailed three of the other
triage nurses about the grievance. Dr. Tyson went to the area
where the phone-triage nurses worked, told them about
Carver's grievance, warned them not to discuss or work on
the grievance during work time, and informed them were not
obligated to assist Carver.
appealed Dr. Tyson's response to her grievance by sending
a letter to Andrew Casas, Vice President and Chief Operating
Officer of UTHealth. Carver not only contested Dr.
Tyson's factual findings, she complained about the manner
in which Dr. Tyson had publically announced to the
telephone-triage department that Carver had filed a grievance
and that the other nurses were not required to assist with
the grievance. Carver indicated that she had learned from
other nurses that Dr. Tyson's announcement had a chilling
effect on other nurses' willingness to support her
also said, "I did not complain about protected class
discrimination. I do not know why Dr. Tyson addressed those
things in her response." Carver further asserted that
Dr. Tyson's findings misrepresented the facts provided by
the employees Dr. Tyson had interviewed. For example, Carver
wrote, "Despite Dr. Tyson's findings that no one
worried or worries about David Riley's temper, I believe
3 interviewees told her they did and they still do. Each one
told me that their answers were very different than Dr. Tyson
wrote in her response to me." She averred that Hartranft
told her that, during the meeting in which Riley had become
enraged at Perkins, Riley had nearly hit Hartranft "as
he waved his hand violently in front of her face."
stated that Perkins told her, contrary to what Dr. Tyson
found in her report, "that David Riley never apologized
to [Perkins] for his temper outbursts." The next day,
Perkins was fired "for not being a team player,"
and she was escorted from the premises by UT police.
one month later, Hartranft resigned. She stated in her
resignation letter that she had "agonized over [her]
decision for over a month" but had decided to resign
following "a heated discussion" she had with Riley
the previous week, which she later testified was regarding
overtime. She said that Riley had yelled at her, screaming
several times that he was her "superior." During
her deposition, Hartranft cited this as another time she
feared Riley might assault her because he had charged out of
his office yelling at her during the incident.
resignation letter, Hartranft had also said that she suffered
from fibromyalgia. She indicated that the pain associated
with the disease had worsened during her employment.
Carver's appeal to Casas about her grievance was never
answered. Carver resigned two weeks after Hartranft's
weeks after Carver resigned, another telephone triage nurse,
Anna George, sent an email to a number of people, including
UTHealth human resources' representative Sandra Kelley.
George was transferred from the telephone triage department
subject of George's email was "Hostile [W]ork
Environment." George wrote, "I am really frightened
to work under my current manager D. Riley RN because he was
yelling again today at me for asking for a clarification to
schedule a [patient.]" She said that Riley "had
yelled at other nurses in the past and they no longer work
here." She pointed out that that several nurses had
already been fired or had quit because of Riley's
continued, "I can't work under this situation."
She explained that she was "really scared [Riley] is
treating me like this." George related that Riley
"is really upset about my transfer to cardiology and
called me few times and harassed me about it. I am really
upset, scared and worried about my health also at this
Hartranft sued UTHealth for violations of the Texas
Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA). See Tex.
Lab. Code Ann. §§ 21.001-.556 (West 2015). Her
petition included the following factual allegations:
• "Hartranft was a good employee who did her job
• "She was discriminated against because of her
race and gender and was retaliated against for opposing
discriminatory practices in the workplace."
• "Hartranft was a nurse in the DSRIP [Delivery
System Reform Incentive Payment] office."
• "David Riley did not like Jeanne Hartranft
because she is female and is not African American."
• "Riley is male and African American."
• "He managed Jeanne Hartranft and the other
female, non-African-American nurses in the office by bullying
them, throwing temper tantrums, and routinely trying to
• "There were several incidents where Jeanne
Hartranft feared that David Riley would physically assault
her and other nurses."
• "Hartranft was screamed at and was told
repeatedly by David Riley that he was her superior."
• "[N]umerous good nurses were either fired or quit
because of the hostile work environment created by David
Riley, and his supervisors' failure to correct the
• "Hartranft was retaliated against when she
supported a grievance filed by Christie Carver, who grieved
about . . . discrimination."
• "Perkins was also a witness to a grievance filed
by Christie Carver, which complained about David Riley's