Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Texas Department of Transportation v. Lara

Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin

May 9, 2019

Texas Department of Transportation, Appellant
v.
Albert Lara, Jr., Appellee

          FROM THE DISTRICT COURT OF TRAVIS COUNTY, 345TH JUDICIAL DISTRICT NO. D-1-GN-16-005836, HONORABLE JAN SOIFER, JUDGE PRESIDING

          Before Chief Justice Rose, Justices Baker and Smith

          OPINION

          EDWARD SMITH, JUSTICE

         Albert Lara, Jr., sued the Texas Department of Transportation for terminating his employment after he took extended leave to recover from surgery. Lara alleges the Department failed to provide the reasonable accommodation required by the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA), Tex. Lab. Code § 21.051, and retaliated against him for exercising his rights under that Act, id. § 21.055. The Department filed a combined motion for summary judgment and plea to the jurisdiction. The district court denied the motion and overruled the plea, and the Department filed timely appeal. We will affirm in part and reverse in part.

         BACKGROUND

         Lara worked for the Department for two decades, most recently as a general engineering technician. In April of 2015, Lara was suffering from gastrointestinal distress. By April 22nd, he reported his illness to his superiors at the Department and indicated he could not attend work and did not know when he could return. He underwent surgery on May 7th but had already exhausted his paid sick leave, vacation time, and "comp time." A week later, Lara requested extended paid leave from hours donated by co-workers through the Department's sick-leave pool ("SLP leave"). Lara's application for leave included his physician's statements that:

• Lara was not suffering from a catastrophic condition;
• he would not need multiple treatments;
• he was not able to perform the essential functions of his position;
• he could not "perform any work of any kind"; and
• the estimated date of his return was June 23rd, 2015.

         Because Lara had already exhausted all of his own paid leave, and because government employees may only withdraw SLP leave upon a doctor's certification of a "catastrophic condition," see Tex. Gov't Code §§ 661.004-.006, Lara was not eligible for any paid leave. The Department granted him unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act, 29 U.S.C. § 2601, through June 23rd.

         After complications from surgery, Lara filed an updated leave request including physician's statements that Lara would need multiple treatments, did not expect to return until July 21st, and could not perform work of any kind. The physician's revised statements led the Department to designate Lara as an employee with a catastrophic condition and to offer him SLP leave sufficient to compensate for the time off work.

         Lara subsequently filed another request for SLP leave with a new estimated return date of October 21st, 2015. The physician again reported that Lara could not work in any capacity. The physician also reported that Lara would require one or more follow-up procedures upon recovery from the original surgery. The Department granted him additional SLP leave, bringing the total awarded to its maximum of 720 hours. See Tex. Gov't Code § 661.005 (delineating factors used to calculate maximum withdrawal). It then explained that this leave would expire on September 16th, 2015, and that no further leave would be available. Lara began contacting various staff members in hopes of obtaining additional leave.

         On September 1st, Lara's supervisor met with a representative from the Department's human-relations office to determine how to respond to Lara's absence. On September 9th, the Department sent Lara written notice of termination if he could not return to work within seven days. He did not do so and was terminated as described in the notice.

         Lara filed suit alleging discrimination and retaliation under the TCHRA. The Department responded with a defense of undue hardship, see Tex. Lab. Code § 21.128(b), arguing that it needed someone to perform Lara's duties and was no longer able to hold the position open pending his return. It then filed a combined motion for summary judgment and plea to the jurisdiction. The district court denied the motion and overruled the plea, and the Department timely perfected this appeal.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The district court's jurisdiction is a question of law we review de novo. Guevara v. H.E. Butt Grocery Co., 82 S.W.3d 550, 551 (Tex. App.-San Antonio 2002, pet. denied). "Immunity from suit bars a suit against the State unless the Legislature expressly consents to the suit." Texas Nat. Res. Conservation Comm'n v. IT-Davy, 74 S.W.3d 849, 853 (Tex. 2002); see alsoMission 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). A governmental unit may raise the issue of immunity and challenge jurisdiction "through a plea to the jurisdiction or other procedural vehicle, such as a motion for summary ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.