Appeal from the 127th District Court Harris County, Texas
Trial Court Cause No. 2017-18655
consists of Justices Christopher, Hassan, and Poissant.
Sienna Financial Services, LLC, fired Ashley Coe, she sued
the company for wrongful termination under the Sabine
Pilot exception to the employment-at-will
doctrine. A jury returned a verdict for Coe and
awarded damages; the trial court granted Sienna
Financial's motion for judgment notwithstanding the
verdict and Coe timely appealed. We affirm.
recitation of the factual background is constrained by the
appellate record before us. We draw the following from the
September 2016, Coe saw an advertisement on Craigslist for
"tax-preparer school" and decided to attend. After
finishing the ten-week course, she applied for a job at
Sienna Financial (owned by Kutina Harmon and Craig Bryant),
and was hired to prepare tax returns in December 2016. Coe
signed an at-will employment contract with Sienna Financial.
She was assigned a Preparer Tax Identification Number (PTIN)
which identified her to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
and was required on every tax return she prepared. Between
the time she was hired in December 2016 and the end of
January 2017, business was slow and Coe mostly answered the
phone; during that time, she prepared fewer than ten tax
returns. According to Coe, she never received any complaints
from Harmon or Bryant about her work performance during that
early evening on February 1, 2017, a customer came to Sienna
Financial, introduced himself as the dentist next-door,
handed Coe a large envelope, and asked her to "get this
all worked up for" him so he could return the following
day with his wife to "sign everything." Coe asked
him to sign a release before he left. Coe recalled she and
Bryant had the following exchange after the customer left:
Craig [Bryant] came from the back and he was, like, why did
you let him leave?
And I said, well, he said he wanted to come back tomorrow
with his wife to sign everything and that he had to get back
to work. And he just wanted to drop it off so it could be
And he's, like, no, no, no. You should have never let him
walk out the door.
I was, like, okay. I was, like, but he wanted his wife here
to go over everything.
And then Craig told me, he was, like, no, he didn't need
his wife here.
I was, like, she has to be here to sign.
He goes, no, he can sign for his wife. And me and the other
lady that was in the office kind of looked at each other and