Garcia v. City of Amarillo

Decision Date22 July 2020
Docket Number2:18-CV-95-Z-BR
PartiesPETE GARCIA, Plaintiff, v. CITY OF AMARILLO, TEXAS, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Texas

Before this Court is "Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment" ("Motion for Summary Judgment") filed by Defendant City of Amarillo, Texas ("Defendant"), on November 11, 2019. In the motion, Defendant moves for summary judgment on all claims against it made by Plaintiff Pete Garcia ("Plaintiff").1 For the reasons stated below, the Court GRANTS Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment in its entirety.


The facts of this case are lengthy and have been comprehensively recited at multiple points in multiple filings. See ECF Nos. 65 at 6-11, 69 at 6-11. The Court therefore declines to repeat them in their entirety and instead will simply cite to the record when appropriate. Nevertheless, these facts can be briefly summarized as follows.

Plaintiff was employed by Defendant as a firefighter and suffered an ear injury in an on-the-job accident involving an air horn. Defendant placed Plaintiff on leave with full pay for 24 weeks while he recovered from his injury. During this period, Plaintiff submitted grievances toDefendant against co-employees that he believed were responsible for the injury and acquired an attorney. Plaintiff then returned to light-work duty about six months after his injury and was required to sign a document indicating the receipt of new work-related policies issued during his leave of absence. Plaintiff expressed discomfort in signing the document without first consulting his attorney and did not sign it. Consequently, he was placed back on leave with pay and given the document and an accompanying packet containing the policies to review and sign. He also was instructed not to train at any of the fire stations at his work. Plaintiff returned to one of the stations to access his email on its computer system, and an argument between him and the district chief at the station ensued. Plaintiff eventually left the station and later met with a different district chief to discuss what had happened at the station. Two days later, Plaintiff failed to appear at the city hall as directed to discuss his purportedly insubordinate behavior. He was indefinitely suspended the next day, which is tantamount to termination.

On April 25, 2018, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendant in the District Court of Potter County, Texas, 320th Judicial District (ECF No. 1-6) for unlawful discrimination under Texas Labor Code Section 21.051 and failure to comply with the Family and Medical Leave Act. On May 15, Defendant removed the case to this Court (ECF No. 1) and filed an answer to Plaintiff's complaint (ECF No. 2).

On the same date, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss (ECF No. 3). On June 14, Plaintiff filed a response to Defendant's motion to dismiss (ECF No. 11), to which Defendant replied on June 28 (ECF No. 14). On October 29, the United States Magistrate Judge entered findings and conclusion regarding Defendant's motion to dismiss and recommended that it be denied without prejudice (ECF No. 27). On November 30, the Court adopted the Magistrate Judge's findings, conclusions, and recommendation (ECF No. 29).

On October 4 of the same year, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint against Defendant (ECF No. 26). On October 3, 2019 — almost a year later — Plaintiff filed a second amended complaint against Defendant (ECF No. 60) for the same causes of action as in his initial complaint as well as for retaliation under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and injuries under the Americans with Disabilities Act. On October 5, Defendant filed an answer to Plaintiff's second amended complaint ("Second Amended Complaint") (ECF No. 64).

On November 8, Defendant filed the Motion for Summary Judgment now before this Court (ECF No. 65). On December 6, Plaintiff filed a response to Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 69). Finally, on December 23, Defendant filed a reply to Plaintiff's response (ECF No. 72).


In a civil case, "[a] party may move for summary judgment, identifying each claim or defense — or the part of each claim or defense — on which summary judgment is sought." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(b). When a summary judgment movant does not have the burden of proof on a claim, it may obtain summary judgment by pointing the court to the absence of evidence on any essential element of the nonmovant's claim. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Once it does so, the nonmovant must go beyond its pleadings and designate specific facts demonstrating that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial. See id. at 324-25 (citations omitted); see also Little v. Liquid Air Corp., 37 F.3d 1069, 1075 (5th Cir. 1994) (citations omitted) (stating that "if the movant does, however, meet this burden [of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact], the nonmovant must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial").

A genuine issue of material fact exists if the evidence is such that a reasonable trier of fact could return a verdict for the nonmovant. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). To meet its burden of showing that there is a genuine issue of material fact for trial, the nonmovant must show more than "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," or by "conclusory allegations," "unsubstantiated assertions," or "only a scintilla of evidence." Little, 37 F.3d at 1075 (internal marks omitted). Summary judgment is mandatory where the nonmovant fails to meet this burden. Id. at 1076. Additionally, summary judgment evidence must be viewed in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); see also Rosado v. Deters, 5 F.3d 119, 123 (5th Cir. 1994) (stating that the court "must review the facts drawing all inferences most favorable to the party opposing the motion" (internal marks omitted)).


In the Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges several causes of action listed below as follows:

• Disparate treatment and retaliation under Chapter 21 of the Texas Labor Code (also known as the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act, or the "TCHRA");
• Retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-3(a) ("Title VII");
• Violations under the Family Medical Leave Act (the "FMLA"); and
• Disparate treatment and retaliation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (the "ADA").

In response to these claims, Defendant first argues that they all should be dismissed "because Plaintiff failed to meet mandatory requirements contained in all the statutes that contain deadlinesthat must be met in order for a case to move forward." ECF No. 65 at 12-13. Defendant then argues on a variety of grounds that Plaintiff has failed to meet essential elements of each of his claims.

The Court will first analyze the preliminary issue of administrative exhaustion. Then, when examining Plaintiff's claims and Defendant's arguments against them, the Court will address them in an order different from that listed by Plaintiff in his Second Amended Complaint. As explained below, Plaintiff's claims under state law are largely governed by the same legal standards as their counterparts under federal law. Consequently, the Court determines that claims of the same kind are best discussed together. Specifically, the Court will address Plaintiff's disparate treatment claim under Texas law with his disparate treatment claim under the ADA and his retaliation claim under Texas law with his retaliation claim under Title VII and the ADA.

A. Administrative Exhaustion

The Court begins by examining the issue of administrative exhaustion under Plaintiff's claims under both federal and state law.

1. Administrative Exhaustion under Title VII and the ADA

"Employment discrimination plaintiffs must exhaust administrative remedies before pursuing claims in federal court. Exhaustion occurs when the plaintiff files a timely charge with the [Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC")] and receives a statutory notice of right to sue." Taylor v. Books A Million, Inc., 296 F.3d 376, 378-79 (5th Cir. 2002). Administrative exhaustion under the ADA regarding employment follows the same procedures as that under Title VII. See 42 U.S.C. § 12117 ("The powers, remedies, and procedures set forth in sections 2000e-4, 2000e-5, 2000e-6, 2000e-8, and 2000e-9 of [Title VII] shall be [those provided] . . . to any person alleging discrimination on the basis of disability in violation of any provision of [the ADA] . . . concerning employment.").

In its recent opinion in Fort Bend Cty., Texas v. Davis, the Supreme Court has summarized the procedures for administrative exhaustion for Title VII claims:

Title VII directs that a charge shall be filed with the EEOC by or on behalf of a person claiming to be aggrieved within 180 days after the alleged unlawful employment practice occurs. For complaints concerning a practice occurring in a State or political subdivision that has a fair employment agency of its own empowered to grant or seek relief, Title VII instructs the complainant to file her charge first with the state or local agency. The complainant then has 300 days following the challenged practice, or 30 days after receiving notice that state or local proceedings have ended, whichever is earlier, to file a charge with the EEOC. If the state or local agency has a "worksharing" agreement with the EEOC, a complainant ordinarily need not file separately with federal and state agencies. She may file her charge with one agency, and that agency will then relay the charge to the other.

139 S. Ct. 1843, 1846 (2019) (internal marks omitted). Significantly, the Civil Rights Division of the Texas Workforce Commission (the "TWC" or, in...

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