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Horne v. Texas Department of Transportation

United States District Court, E.D. Texas, Sherman Division

October 28, 2019




         Pending before the Court is Defendant Texas Department of Transportation's (“TxDOT”) Motion to Sever (the “Motion”) (Dkt. 5). Plaintiffs Robert Horne, Eric Richards, and Victor Carrell (collectively “Plaintiffs” and individually “Horne, ” “Richards, ” and “Carrell”) filed a response opposing severance (Dkt. 6). The parties discussed the Motion with the Court during the Management Conference on October 22, 2019. See Dkt. 19. Upon consideration, the Court finds Defendant's Motion (Dkt. 5) is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs were longtime employees of TxDOT and worked together at the Sulphur Springs Yard (“the Yard”), a TxDOT facility, between 2015 and February 2017.[1] See Dkt. 1 at 5-6. During this time, Horne, a Native American, was allegedly subjected to racially-based discriminatory and disparate treatment by the Yard's supervisor, Clint Traylor (“Traylor”), who was transferred by TxDOT to the Yard sometime in 2015. See Id. at 6, 8. Horne was the only Native American employed at the Yard during Traylor's tenure. See Id. at 2. Horne repeatedly complained that Traylor's racially-motivated disparate treatment of him and TxDOT's responses to Traylor's actions violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and 1994, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. (“Title VII”). See Id. at 1, 3, 4. Richards and Carrell also repeatedly complained about the treatment of Horne.[2] See id. at 6. All three Plaintiffs allege these complaints were protected conduct under Title VII, as Plaintiffs were “opposing the racially disparate mistreatment of Horne by Traylor and others at the Sulphur Springs Yard.” See Dkt. 1 at 1, 10. All three Plaintiffs' complaints began in 2015, and continued through February 2017. See id. at 6.

         On December 16, 2016, TxDOT management staff Chad Ingram (“Ingram”), Tommy Henderson (“Henderson”), and Daniel Taylor (“Taylor”) met individually with each Plaintiff. See Dkt. 1 at 10. Horne was issued a twelve-month probation and a five-day unpaid suspension as disciplinary action. See id. at 11. Carrell and Richards were each told TxDOT management had heard they were unhappy working at the Yard and were offered the option to transfer to another facility. See Id. at 10-11. Carrell and Richards were further told they were not being accused of misconduct or poor performance. See id. Carrell and Richards each told management they did not wish to transfer, and management assured Carrell and Richards that they would not be reassigned out of the Yard. See id.

         After the December 16 meetings, Carroll and Richards continued to complain about Horne's treatment to TxDOT officials, including Henderson and TxDOT Human Resources employee Catherine Hosteler. See Dkt. 1 at 12-13.

         On February 17, 2017, TxDOT transferred each Plaintiff to a different TxDOT facility: Horne to the Cooper Yard, Richards to the Emory Yard, and Carroll to the Mount Vernon Yard. See Dkt. 4 at 5. The transfers were issued in person by Henderson and Taylor. See Dkt. 1 at 13. Plaintiffs allege the transfers were made in retaliation for their protected complaints. See id. at 4. Soon after the transfers, Horne retired early. See id. at 14. Carrell and Richards remained employed at the TxDOT facilities to which they were transferred. See id. at 15.

         In September 2017, Plaintiffs filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) against TxDOT, in which Horne alleged racial discrimination, age discrimination, and retaliation, and Richards and Carrell alleged age discrimination and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. See Dkt. 1 at 21-23. After Plaintiffs received their right to sue letters from the EEOC, they filed the present suit on June 30, 2019. See Dkt. 1, Exhibit A. All three Plaintiffs seek back pay and lost retirement benefits, among other damages. See Dkt. 1 at 17.

         TxDOT filed the Motion on grounds of misjoinder, seeking to sever Plaintiffs' claims prior to the initial mandatory disclosure deadline of August 22, 2019. See Dkt. 8 at 1-2. As the initial mandatory disclosure deadline passed before the case was transferred to the undersigned, the Court allowed the parties to address the Motion at the Management Conference on October 22, 2019. See Dkt. 16.


         “Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 21, trial courts are afforded broad discretion to ‘sever any claim against a party.'” Jones v. Dematic Corp., No. 3:13-cv-1334-O, 2013 WL 12129709, at *1 (N.D. Tex. Nov. 8, 2013) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 21; Reid v. Gen. Motors Corp., 240 F.R.D. 260, 263 (E.D. Tex. Jan.16, 2007)). Rule 20 sets forth a two-prong test, allowing joinder of parties when: (1) their claims arise out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or occurrences; and (2) there is at least one common question of law or fact linking all the claims. See Acevedo v. Allsup's Convenience Stores, Inc., 600 F.3d 516, 521 (5th Cir. 2010). Misjoinder of parties is not a ground for dismissing an action, but the Court may add or drop a party. Fed.R.Civ.P. 21.

         Rule 21 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure establishes that “[o]n motion or on its own, the court may at any time, on just terms, add or drop a party, ” and “[t]he court may sever any claim against a party.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 21. Under Rule 21, a “district court has the discretion to sever an action if it is misjoined or might otherwise cause delay or prejudice.” Applewhite v. Reichhold Chems., 67 F.3d 571, 574 (5th Cir. 1995). Trial courts have broad discretion to sever issues to be tried before it. Brunet v. United Gas Pipeline Co., 15 F.3d 500, 505 (5th Cir. 1994). However, courts will refuse to sever claims if “the court believes that it only will result in delay, inconvenience, or added expense.” In re Rolls Royce Corp., 775 F.3d 671, 680 n.40 (5th Cir. 2014).

         “Our district has maintained that Rule 21 ‘should be read in conjunction with Rules 18, 19 and 20,' because Rule 21 contains no standards governing its operation, but is invoked when violation of another rule occurs.” Texas Farmers Insurance Company v. Louisiana-Pacific Corp., 321 F.R.D. 561, 563 (E.D. Tex. 2017) (citing Americans for Fair Patent Use, LLC v. Sprint Nextel Corp., No. 2:10-CV-237-TJW, 2011 WL 98279, at *2 (E.D. Tex. Jan. 12, 2011)). And the Fifth Circuit has held that “district courts have considerable discretion to deny joinder when it would not facilitate judicial economy and when different witnesses and documentary proof would be required for plaintiff's claims.” Acevedo, 600 F.3d at 522. Therefore, “the Court finds it appropriate to utilize Rule 20 cases in determining whether to sever properly joined claims to the extent they weigh on fairness, judicial economy, and prejudice.” Texas Farmers Insurance Company, 321 F.R.D. at 563.

         III. ...

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