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Jones v. Port Arthur Independent School District

Court of Appeals of Texas, Ninth District, Beaumont

June 28, 2018

MONTY JONES, Appellant
v.
PORT ARTHUR INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, Appellee

          Submitted on March 1, 2018

          On Appeal from the 60th District Court Jefferson County, Texas Trial Cause No. B-188, 922

          Before McKeithen, C.J., Kreger, and Johnson, JJ.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          CHARLES KREGER Justice

         Monty Jones appeals the trial court's order granting Port Arthur Independent School District's (PAISD) plea to the jurisdiction and dismissing his claims.[1] In two issues on appeal, Jones argues that: (1) the district court erred in granting PAISD's plea to the jurisdiction and motion to dismiss, and (2) the district court erred in granting Dr. Johnny Brown and Beverly Thornton's plea to the jurisdiction and motion to dismiss.[2]

         Background

         In his underlying suit, Jones asserted PAISD, Brown, and Thornton violated his right of free speech under article I, section 8 of the Texas Constitution and his right to due course of law pursuant to article I, section 19 of the Texas Constitution, by terminating his employment. In his response to PAISD's plea to the jurisdiction, Jones confirmed he only pleaded violations of his constitutional rights for which he sought declaratory and injunctive relief. In connection with his claims, Jones outlines many perceived wrongful actions against him, but we confine our review to the causes of action Jones actually pleaded.

         Jones was employed as a computer technician for PAISD's Technology Department from February 9, 2004, to May 29, 2009.[3] While employed by PAISD, Jones was supervised by the Executive Director of Technology, Beverly Thornton. Thornton reported directly to Superintendent Brown. In his second amended petition[4], Jones claimed that Thornton secured millions of dollars in federal aid by deceptive means following Hurricanes Rita and Ike. Jones alleged Thornton "devised a scheme to trick FEMA" to obtain money to replace computers that were not actually damaged in the hurricanes. Jones claimed that he refused to participate in the mass destruction of PAISD property, and he made his opposition clear by his "silent disapproval." During the first hearing on the plea to the jurisdiction, Dr. Brown testified he did not know before Jones's termination that Jones told coworkers about fraudulently destroyed computers. Dr. Brown further testified he only learned Jones told coworkers about the computers after Jones filed suit.

         As part of his job, Jones was responsible for acquiring sealed and anonymous bids to replace PAISD computer scanners. Jones claimed Thornton pressured him to provide inside information to one of her friends, a private contractor, to ensure he received the contract. When Jones refused, Thornton allegedly retaliated.

         Jones asserted he was increasingly harassed beginning in July of 2008 following the bidding process. Jones found vulgar notes on his desk, items missing from his desk, and his locker forced open and belongings ransacked. Jones pleaded that he reported the harassment to Thornton, but she failed to investigate. On January 6, 2009, Jones found a hangman's noose fashioned out of a piece of cable in a box on his desk. Jones contacted Thornton the following morning to speak with her about it, but she instructed him to come by her office on January 16, 2009, because she wanted to speak with him as well. During the January 16 meeting, Thornton offered to relocate Jones to Memorial High School campus and indicated she would like to pay him an additional stipend, and Jones asked for time to think about the offer. Jones did not bring up the noose he found on his desk during the meeting for fear of being overheard by a co-worker, so later the same day, Jones sent Thornton an email regarding the noose on his desk, the messages, and lock tampering on his locker. Within an hour, Thornton called Jones about the email he sent, and he informed her he planned to submit a written report of the harassment. Following submission of his report, Jones met with Thornton and PAISD's Director of Personnel, Jimmy Wyble. Jones subsequently provided Wyble with pictures of the noose, harassing messages, and the tampered locker. Jones advised he viewed the noose as a hate crime, and he wanted the harassment to cease or he would seek legal advice.

         In a meeting on March 2, 2009, Thornton informed Jones that an investigation revealed no wrongdoing had been committed against him. Jones alleged Thornton changed the direction of the meeting, reprimanded him, and called him a stalker, after which he abruptly left the meeting. Later that day, Thornton sent Jones a document regarding his transfer from district computer technician to campus technician, along with a directive requiring Jones to "cease from stalking and . . . taking pictures of staff members without their consent during work hours." Jones responded to Thornton's directives and asked her to remove the reference to "stalking," which Thornton declined. In a separate letter dated March 2, 2009, Dr. Brown placed Jones on administrative leave with pay for ninety days citing his insubordination, failure to follow procedures, disorderly and disruptive conduct, taking unsolicited pictures of employees, throwing garbage into the back of a vendor's truck, and storming out of a conference. Thornton testified during the first hearing on the plea to the jurisdiction that she was concerned about Jones's integrity and his storage of confidential information on his computer that he should not possess.

         On April 9, 2009, Jones filed a grievance complaining about Thornton and the events that occurred between January 6, 2009, and March 2, 2009. On May 7, 2009, Thornton and PAISD's attorney met with Jones again and inquired about photographs Jones had taken of Dr. Brown's home while installing the school's electronic equipment. On June 2, 2009, Jones received a letter of discharge from PAISD signed by Dr. Brown. On June 8, 2009, Jones filed a charge of discrimination against PAISD with the EEOC and the Texas Workforce Commission.

         Jones filed four grievances through PAISD's administrative process appealing his suspension and termination, which were denied. Jones's amended level one complaint form regarding his termination by PAISD alleged his "termination constitute[d] retaliation for [his] having filed a harassment complaint with [his] supervisor and filing a grievance, challenging the same."

         The trial court held two evidentiary hearings on the plea to the jurisdiction. During the first hearing, Thornton testified Jones was terminated because of insubordination, being disgruntled with other computer technicians, not following protocol, and breaching confidentiality. Various documents from both Jones and PAISD pertaining to Jones's employment, termination, and grievances were also admitted ...


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