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City of Waco v. Lopez – Case Brief Summary (Texas)

In City of Waco v. Lopez, 259 S.W.3d 147, 149 (Tex. 2008), Lopez filed suit under the Whistleblower Act alleging retaliatory discharge for reporting age and race discrimination.

Although Lopez did not invoke Chapter 21 in his pleadings, the court decided that his claims fell within Chapter 21's ambit. Id.

The court wrote "the touchstone is not availment, but availability of Chapter 21 remedies." Id. at 151.

Because Lopez's claims could have been raised under Chapter 21, the court found that a plea to the jurisdiction should have been granted. Id. at 156.

In City of Waco v. Lopez, the plaintiff filed a whistleblower claim in which he alleged that he was fired in retaliation for reporting race and age discrimination against him. Id. Lopez did not, however, file a complaint with the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (CHRA). Id.

Instead, Lopez elected to characterize his claim as a whistleblower claim and bypass the administrative process. Id. at 152-55.

The supreme court concluded that the claim fell "squarely under the CHRA, which provided Lopez's exclusive state statutory remedy," and that Lopez could "only recover if he satisfied the requirements of the CHRA." Id. at 156.

Because Lopez had "not pled a cause of action under the CHRA," had "not invoked the procedures of the CHRA to remedy the alleged acts of retaliation and discrimination," and "the time limits for filing a charge or complaint pursuant to the procedures specified in the CHRA had long since passed," the court concluded that Lopez had "failed to allege a claim for which the City's governmental immunity had been waived." Id.

Lopez addressed the issue of whether a claimant could elect between the Human Rights and Whistleblower Acts. See id. at 153-55.

It did not address cooperation as a factor in determining whether a claimant fails to exhaust her administrative remedies.

The Texas Supreme Court held that a public employee pursuing a state statutory remedy for retaliation arising from the employee's complaints pertaining to alleged age and race discrimination may only recover under the TCHRA and he could not bring a claim under the Whistleblower Act. 259 S.W.3d at 149.

Although Lopez did not invoke Chapter 21 in his pleadings, the Court held that Chapter 21 was the employee's exclusive remedy because it provided a more "specific and tailored" remedy. Id. at 156.

The Court explained that "the touchstone is not availment, but availability of Chapter 21 remedies." Id. at 151.

Because Lopez's claims could have been raised under Chapter 21, the court found that a plea to the jurisdiction should have been granted. Id. at 156.

The Court noted that to hold otherwise would allow a plaintiff to skirt the TCHRA's detailed substantive and procedural provisions and would render the limitations in the TCHRA utterly meaningless. Id. at 154.