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Aldine Independent School District v. Massey

Court of Appeals of Texas, First District

June 26, 2018

ALDINE INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, Appellant
v.
ADDIE MASSEY, Appellee

          On Appeal from the 151st District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Case No. 2016-26124

          Panel consists of Justices Bland, Lloyd, and Caughey.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          Jane Bland Justice

         This is an interlocutory appeal from a denial of a school district's plea to the jurisdiction concerning its former employee's claims for disability discrimination and retaliation under the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act. See Tex. Lab. Code §§ 21.051, 21.055; Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 51.014(a)(8). The school district contends that the trial court erred in denying its plea because the evidence does not raise a fact issue demonstrating that it violated the antidiscrimination law by (1) failing to provide its employee with reasonable accommodations, or (2) retaliating against the employee for engaging in protected activity by giving her an unfavorable reference. We reverse and remand.

         BACKGROUND

         Addie Massey worked for Aldine Independent School District as a paraprofessional in Stehlik Intermediate School, under the direct supervision of the school principal, Christi Van Wassenhove. Her primary duties consisted of monitoring students in the school's computer lab to ensure that they were performing assigned work. Massey's regular ancillary duties included assisting other faculty and staff with metal detector duty at the beginning of the school day. This task required standing while monitoring students and checking their belongings at the metal detector in the morning before they entered the building. She also had lunch duty, which entailed monitoring students' behavior during their lunch periods to maintain order. At times, Massey performed other ancillary duties, including supervising the in-school-suspension classroom.

         On the second-to-last day of school in June 2014, Massey injured her hip when a student pushed her into a door as she attempted to open it. Massey sought medical attention and did not return to school for the last day. During the 2014 summer recess, Massey was diagnosed with a fractured hip. In late August, a different treating physician opined that Massey was not ready to return to work. On September 15, the physician examined Massey again. This time, the physician released Massey for work, with the restriction that she perform seated light duty work with no lifting or carrying.

         To accommodate Massey's physical restrictions, on September 23, the school principal gave Massey a written offer of modified duty. The offer consisted of metal detector duty, which was modified to require no lifting or carrying, and would be performed while Massey remained seated. Massey would perform this duty with at least one other employee, who could assist her, if needed. Massey also continued to monitor students during their lunch period. The school modified Massey's lunch monitor duties to allow her to sit near the stage instead of walking around the cafeteria like the other monitors. Massey accepted the restrictions and signed the offer of accommodation. She admitted that the principal offered her accommodations tailored to match her physical restrictions each time she provided updated work status reports from her physician.

         On December 5, 2014, Massey's physician cleared Massey to return to work without any restrictions. The school nevertheless continued to allow Massey to sit during her morning duty at the metal detector, during lunch duty, and while monitoring in the computer lab.

         In February 2015, Massey fell while walking to the computer lab. Massey was treated at a hospital and released the same day. She spent the next week recuperating at home. After that week, her physician released her to return to work with the following restrictions:

• up to two hours of standing;
• eight hours of sitting;
• no kneeling or ...

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