Case Involving ''Retaliatory Discharge'' In Texas

In Texas Division-Tranter, Inc. v. Carrozza, 876 S.W.2d 312 (Tex. 1994), the plaintiff sued his former employer, alleging that he was discharged in retaliation for filing a workers' compensation claim. Carrozza missed three consecutive days of work without obtaining permission before continuing his absence. Because Carrozza did not report to work after his leave of absence, Texas Division-Tranter (Tranter) terminated him for violating its "three-day rule" policy. Tranter moved for summary judgment, which was granted. The trial court based its decision on Tranter's uncontroverted summary judgment evidence reflecting that Carrozza was terminated solely for violating the employer's three-day rule. Carrozza, 876 S.W.2d at 313. the court observed that Carrozza did not present any evidence contradicting Tranter's claim; however, he did file an affidavit containing his subjective beliefs as to why he was discharged. The court held that the affidavit was not competent summary judgment evidence. Id. at 314. The court also held that the uniform enforcement of a reasonable absence-control policy does not constitute retaliatory discharge under the Workers' Compensation Act. Id. at 313. At a trial to recover for damages arising from retaliatory discharge, an employee must prove that "but for" his filing of a worker's compensation claim, the discharge would not have occurred when it did. Trico Technologies Corp. v. Montiel, 949 S.W.2d 308, 312 (Tex. 1997); Continental Coffee Prods. Co. v. Cazarez, 937 S.W.2d 444, 450-51 (Tex. 1996). The Supreme Court has recognized factors which, if proven by the plaintiff, are considered circumstantial evidence of this causal link. Continental Coffee, 937 S.W.2d at 450-51. These include: (1) knowledge of the compensation claim by those making the decision on termination; (2) expression of a negative attitude toward the employee's injured condition; (3) failure to adhere to established company policies; (4) discriminatory treatment in comparison to similarly situated employees; (5) evidence that the stated reason for the discharge was false. Continental Coffee Prods. Co. v. Cazarez, 903 S.W.2d 70, 77 (Tex. App.--Houston [14th Dist.] 1995), aff'd in part and rev'd in part on other grounds, 937 S.W.2d 444 (Tex. 1996)); Palmer v. Miller Brewing Co., 852 S.W.2d 57, 61 (Tex. App.--Fort Worth 1993, writ denied); Paragon Hotel Corp. v. Ramirez, 783 S.W.2d 654, 658 (Tex. App.--El Paso 1989, writ denied). The worker's compensation claim need not be the sole cause of the termination. Continental Coffee, 937 S.W.2d at 450-51; Terry, 927 S.W.2d at 257 (filing the claim was at least a determining factor in the discharge); Department of Human Services v. Hinds, 904 S.W.2d 629, 635-36 (Tex. 1995) (the standard of causation in whistleblower and similar cases should be used in employment discrimination cases, i.e., no requirement that the protected conduct of the employee be the sole cause of the discrimination); See also Gorges Foodservice, Inc. v. Huerta, 964 S.W.2d 656, 667 (Tex. App.--Corpus Christi 1998, no pet.). Sections 451.001-.003 of the Texas Labor Code regulate what constitutes a wrongful termination and what must be proven to establish that the termination was in violation of the Worker's Compensation Act. TEX. LAB. CODE ANN. 451.001-.003. They provide: 451.001. Discrimination Against Employees Prohibited A person may not discharge or in any other manner discriminate against an employee because the employee has: (1) filed a workers' compensation claim in good faith; (2) hired a lawyer to represent the employee in a claim; (3) instituted or caused to be instituted in good faith a proceeding under Subtitle A; or (4) testified or is about to testify in a proceeding under Subtitle A. 451.002. Remedies; Burden of Proof (a) a person who violates Section 451.001 is liable for reasonable damages incurred by the employee as a result of the violation. (b) An employee discharged in violation of Section 451.001 is entitled to reinstatement in the former position of employment. (c) the burden of proof in a proceeding under this section is on the employee. 451.003. Injunction A district court may restrain, for cause shown, a violation of Section 451.001.