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Gonzales v. City of San Antonio

United States District Court, W.D. Texas, San Antonio Division

August 5, 2019




         To the Honorable Chief United States District Judge Orlando Garcia:

         This Report and Recommendation concerns the Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant City of San Antonio. Dkt. No. 24. The District Court referred all pretrial matters to me for disposition, pursuant to Western District of Texas Local Rules CV-72 and 1 to Appendix C. See Dkt. No. 10. My authority to enter this recommendation stems from 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). The Court has federal question jurisdiction in this § 1983 case. See 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

         Through this action, Plaintiff Ricky Gonzales, a former employee of the San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department, sues the City in connection with his alleged wrongful termination. The City terminated Gonzales's employment after he failed a drug test. As part of his duties as a maintenance worker for the Parks and Recreation Department, Gonzales drove one of the City's trucks. See Gonzales Decl. ¶ 5. Gonzales primarily takes issue with the procedures associated with the test, including the timing of when the test was administered; he doesn't dispute the test's results.

         For the reasons discussed below, the City's Motion for Summary Judgment Dkt. No. 24, should be GRANTED, and the case should be dismissed.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         On the afternoon of April 20, 2016, a fellow employee reported that Gonzales had damaged another vehicle while Gonzales parked his truck and trailer in the City's yard. Id. ¶ 9. The parties dispute whether Gonzales hit the other vehicle or damaged it. According to Gonzales, neither he nor his supervisor Richard Gatlin found any visible damage on either vehicle. Id. ¶ 9. It's undisputed that no one was injured in the alleged accident, no vehicles were towed, and Gonzales didn't receive a citation. Id. ¶¶ 9, 11. Following the aforementioned inspection of the vehicles, Gatlin permitted Gonzales to leave work for the day. Id. ¶ 9.

         But either later that day or during the morning of the next, an employee emailed Gatlin photographs allegedly showing damage to the left front bumper of the other vehicle. See Def. Exs. 3 & 8. Gatlin and another employee then located the alleged damage. See Def. Exs. 3 & 8. An incident report was ultimately completed by both the City and the San Antonio Police Department, although the police were unable to determine how the “minor damage” to the other vehicle occurred. See Id. & Exs. 9-10.

         Then, at approximately 7 am that same next morning, Parks and Recreation Safety Coordinator Robert Jones informed Gonzales that he needed to take a drug test because of the previous day's incident. Gonzales Decl. ¶ 13. Gonzales initially refused. He maintained that the City's Drug Testing Policy required that all drug tests be administered on the same day of an accident. Id. But he then relented and took the test after being told that continued refusal would result in termination. Id. According to Gonzales, he submitted to the test “under pressure” because he didn't want to lose his job Id. ¶ 14. The test results later came back positive for amphetamines, benzodiazepines, oxazepam, and temazepam. See Def. Ex. 11. The results of the test aren't in dispute.

         Citing the drug-test results, the City, on or about April 25, 2016, issued Gonzales a Notice of Proposed Termination for “[t]esting positive for illegal drugs during the post-accident alcohol/drug screen, per City policy.” See Def. Exs. 12-14. On May 4, Gonzales, now assisted by his attorney, submitted a response objecting to the proposed termination because (1) the City had failed to follow its own drug-testing policy when requiring that he submit to the test, including by requiring that he take the test the next day. See Def. Ex. 12. Further, referring to the City's policy, Gonzales additionally argued (2) there was no reasonable suspicion that he was under the influence of an intoxicating substance to warrant requiring him to take a drug test. He also pointed out that (3) the accident didn't involve death or bodily injury, (4) “disabling damage” to either vehicle, or (5) the striking of a pedestrian, and he further urged that (6) a citation was never issued. The City, pursuant to its own policy providing these bases for requiring a drug test, shouldn't have subjected him to a drug test, Gonzales argued. See Id. (citing AD 4.3 policy). Gonzales didn't, however, dispute the actual testing procedures (beyond the timing of, and necessity for, the test). He also, as already mentioned, didn't take issue with the accuracy of the results. On this last point, Gonzales instead pointed out that under a physician's direction he takes Orthopedic Meloxicam (a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory) and Cyclobenzaprine (a muscle relaxant) to ease knee pain, as well as several over-the-counter physician-recommended medicines. See Id. The combination of these prescription and over-the-counter medications, Gonzales contended, would yield a positive drug test. See id.

         On May 12, 2016, the City issued a Notice of Final Termination, citing the City's zero-tolerance policy for illegal drugs. See Def. Ex. 14 at 4-6. Gonzales appealed the termination decision, and on July 28, 2016, the Civil Service Commission held a hearing on the appeal. See Def. Exs. 2-7 & 15. Both Gonzales and the City were permitted to introduce evidence and examine and cross-examine witnesses. See Def. Exs. 2-7. During this hearing, Gonzales again opposed his termination-again on the ground that the City violated its own drug-testing policy by (1) requiring him to take a test even though the accident didn't fall within any of the circumstances delineated in the City's written policy and (2) requiring him to take a drug test the day after the alleged incident. See Def. Exs. 2-7. Although Gonzales also argued that his medications could result in a positive drug test, he didn't produce any evidence (such as testimony from a doctor) tying his medications to the drugs or types of drugs found in his system. See Def. Exs. 2-7.

         In response, Parks and Recreation Department officials explained that the Department's own unwritten policy requires that a drug test be taken on every accident, regardless of the extent of the damage or who is at fault, and emphasized that the City also has a zero-tolerance policy for drugs. See Def. Exs. 2-7. City officials also disputed whether Gonzales ever informed them of his prescriptions as allegedly required by the City's policy, and further argued that Gonzales failed to show the relevancy of these prescriptions.

         At the conclusion of the hearing, the Commission unanimously recommended that the City Manager sustain Gonzales's termination, concluding that the evidence and testimony supporting a violation of Civil Service Rule XVII, Section 2(g) and the City's Drug and Alcohol Policy (“AD 4.3”). See Def. Exs. 7 & 17.

         Gonzales subsequently requested reconsideration, arguing that his prescriptions offered a valid excuse for his positive drug test. See Def. Ex. 18. On September 2, City Assistant Manager Maria Villagomez and the Assistant Human Resources Director Renee Frieda met with Gonzales and recommended that he submit his prescriptions to the Medical Review Officer for reconsideration. See Id. Ultimately, however, Gonzales's request for reconsideration was denied. See Id. Per the Medical Review Officer, “none of the ...

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