Court of Appeals of Texas, Fifth District, Dallas
Appeal from the 298th Judicial District Court Dallas County,
Texas Trial Court Cause No. DC-15-05007
Justices Myers, Osborne, and Nowell
A. NOWELL JUSTICE
Lovelace appeals an order granting Dallas Independent School
District's plea to the jurisdiction and dismissing her
claim for retaliation under the Texas Commission on Human
Rights Act (TCHRA). Lovelace sued DISD for retaliation under
the TCHRA, alleging DISD terminated her employment in
retaliation for her expressing opposition to discrimination.
DISD filed a plea to the jurisdiction raising its
governmental immunity from suit and challenged the existence
of jurisdictional facts necessary to establish a waiver of
immunity under the TCHRA. The trial court granted the plea
and dismissed Lovelace's lawsuit. Lovelace argues on
appeal that the record shows she engaged in a protected
activity under the TCHRA and there is evidence of a causal
connection between the protected activity and the adverse
employment actions. We conclude Lovelace failed to produce
evidence raising a fact question under the burden-shifting
framework applicable to retaliation claims based on
circumstantial evidence. Therefore, she failed to establish a
waiver of governmental immunity under the TCHRA. We affirm
the trial court's order.
is African American. She was hired by DISD as an Executive
Director in 2012. Executive Directors are responsible for the
schools within their feeder system and the principals of
those schools report directly to their Executive Director.
Assistant Superintendents supervise the Executive Directors.
Dr. Josie Hernandez-Gutierrez was the Assistant
Superintendent for Lovelace's division. Dr. Karon Cofield
took over Gutierrez's position after she resigned. The
Assistant Superintendents are supervised by Dr. Sylvia Reyna,
Chief of School Leadership.
was responsible for thirteen schools, including Spruce High
School and its feeder schools. Lovelace's
responsibilities included supervising the principals of those
schools. In July 2013, DISD gave Lovelace an excellent
performance review for the 2012-2013 school year, stating she
exceeded expectations in several categories.
summer of 2013, parents of Hispanic students at one of
Lovelace's feeder schools, Burleson Elementary,
complained they felt unwelcome at the school and ignored by
the African-American principal, Yolanda Knight. On August 14,
2013, Lovelace sent an e-mail to her supervisor, Gutierrez,
about the situation. Lovelace stated her desire to talk with
Gutierrez about how an Hispanic parent "appears to be
manipulating events and circumventing protocol in an effort
to further her agenda of defamation and slander of Principal
Yolanda Knight." In preparation for a meeting with the
parent, Ms. Acosta, Lovelace felt it "gravely
necessary" to point out "one specific thing before
we move forward with what may prove to be a politically
racial nightmare that further dichotomizes African-Americans
and Latinos." Lovelace then complained about a meeting
arranged by Gutierrez with Rene Martinez of the League of
United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) about the situation.
Lovelace assumed a parent had contacted LULAC, but after
Martinez stated he was never contacted by parents about the
school or principal, Lovelace "left the meeting with the
feeling that you had prompted this meeting but could not
justify a logical reason why you would have done so since our
role is to support our campus leadership publicly but
reprimand and coach them privately."
also complained that Gutierrez made contact with the parent
during Lovelace's absence while taking classes in Austin.
The parent told Gutierrez she did not want to speak with
Lovelace, but Gutierrez never redirected the parent to follow
protocol or attempt to bring in Lovelace to discuss her
concerns. Lovelace reminded Gutierrez that she
told you early on that [the parent's] decision not to
meet with me could be seen as "racist" given the
climate in Dallas and that she should not be allowed to
proceed without first talking to me; however, you continued
to meet with her and others without a postponement that would
have included my presence. By doing this, you further placed
yourself in a position of power and me in a position of
At this time, I understand that Ms. Acosta [parent] and Mr.
Martinez [LULAC representative] are calling for the removal
of Ms. Yolanda Knight [African-American principal]. I do not
support this request and earnestly feel that I have not
received support, coaching, and unbiased guidance from you as
my supervisor to resolve this issue amenably. Your actions
appear biased, unethical, and to have a racist tenor directed
toward Ms. Knight and me. I will be at the meeting tomorrow
evening supporting Ms. Knight as I would support any
principal under my supervision, no matter the ethnicity, who
champions the success for ALL scholars.
spoke to Gutierrez both before and after the August 14, 2013
e-mail. According to Lovelace's declaration, Gutierrez
"expressed a clear understanding that I was opposed to
race discrimination in the actions of the DISD across the
district and at Burleson Elementary at the time."
Lovelace also stated in her declaration that she told
Gutierrez that "DISD was acting in an unlawful racial
manner which was only going to escalate into even worse
racial problems." Lovelace stated that "meeting
with LULAC and not the NAACP or any other African-American
organization" could be viewed as racist.
resigned in October 2013. In November, DISD informed Lovelace
that Dr. Karon Cofield, an African-American, would become her
supervisor beginning January 1, 2014. Lovelace contends
Cofield began harassing her in December 2013, even before
Cofield assumed her official duties. Cofield would randomly
call Lovelace into her office to answer questions about
anonymous complaints regarding Spruce High School. The
meetings pulled Lovelace away from her work and interfered
with her efforts to support principals and improve academic
achievement. Lovelace claimed Cofield gave her a bad
performance review in January 2014 without having the
opportunity to adequately observe her performance.
March 25, 2014, Lovelace sent a memo to Cofield expressing
dissatisfaction with Cofield's oversight of the Spruce
Feeder system. The memo began: "Due to the increasingly
hostile nature of the work environment, the racial
unfairness, inequitable treatment, and prolonged harassment,
I feel it necessary to send you written responses to your
questions concerning complaints received about the Spruce
Feeder, especially its high school." Lovelace complained
she was repeatedly questioned about items she had already
investigated and reported on and was attacked based on
anonymous complaints and gossip.
March 31, 2014, Lovelace responded to an e-mail from another
Executive Director regarding the scheduling of interviews for
their shared administrative assistant. Lovelace declined to
participate in the interviews because Cofield selected the
other Executive Director as the primary evaluator of the
administrative assistant and the unprofessional ...