» Employment Law

Professors alleging discrimination sue University of Houston-Victoria

Three business professors at the University of Houston-Victoria (UHV) are alleging discrimination by their former dean in a lawsuit they filed in March. In their lawsuits, associate professors Luh Yu Ren, Chun-Sheng Yu and Jianjun Du argue UHV officials failed to protect them from discrimination and retaliation from Farhang Niroomand, the former dean of the School of Business Administration.

The plaintiffs, whose are between 59 to 65 years old, are alleging their former boss created a hostile work environment and implemented obstacles preventing them from receiving promotions and pay raises after they complained about Niroomand to the UHV officials about his behavior. Further, the plaintiffs complain the prejudicial treatment they received was due to their ages and Chinese heritage.

Attorneys for UHV argue the men’s lawsuits are without merit, dismissing them as nothing more than common workplace disagreements. “Plaintiff[s] [are] simply complaining about ordinary tribulations of the workplace such as petty slights and minor annoyances,” they argued in court documents. They also claimed the lawsuit fails to meet procedural and jurisdictional requirements.

The embattled former dean resigned in 2017.

The plaintiffs allege they filed suit only after failing to resolve their complaints through the university’s human resources department, the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. While initially complaining UHV failed to respond to their grievances, the plaintiffs since admitted they believed officials did not actually take their complaints seriously.

Eight ex-employees of Texas sanitation company claim racial discrimination

Eight African American employees of a Texas sanitation company have filed a lawsuit claiming discrimination and retaliation.

Dantrell Patterson, Lamonte Young, Demetrius Patterson, Tadarious Dixon, Keithdrick Patterson, Jarvis Hill, Jermaine Bell and Derrick Robert filed the lawsuit against Sanitation Solutions Inc. in the Marshall Division of the Eastern District of Texas on April 20. The plaintiffs claim that the defendant subjected them to acts of intentional discrimination based on race and color.

The lawsuit claims they were surrounded by a “systemic atmosphere of bigotry” at work. They claim Sanitation Solutions management and co-workers used racial slurs and referred to black employees as “boy,” and that a swastika and nooses were displayed at work locations and on trucks. The plaintiffs allege that they were subjected to harassment and discrimination, and retaliated against after they registered complaints about the treatment. The plaintiffs also claim that white workers were paid more than black employees doing the same work, and received lighter discipline than black workers in similar situations, with some of the plaintiffs being discharged. According to the complaint, when the plaintiffs retained counsel and presented management with a written list of grievances, the remaining employees had their employment terminated.

The plaintiffs are seeking damages, front pay, punitive damages, pre- and post-judgment interest, attorney’s fees, an injunction preventing the defendant from engaging in unlawful practices or retaliating against the plaintiffs, reinstatement, and other proper and necessary relief. A jury trial is demanded.

Texas drilling company sued for employment discrimination

A lawsuit has been filed accusing a Texas drilling company of racial discrimination.

Andrew Collins filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, alleging that Noble Drilling violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act.

Collins, an African American resident of Harris County, claims that he was subjected to harassment, threats, intimidation, discrimination and disparate treatment because of his race, which caused him embarrassment and emotional distress.

According to the lawsuit, Noble Drilling denied Collins the privileges, benefits, terms and conditions of employment. The complaint alleges that the company retaliated against Collins by transferring him to a less desirable offshore facility after he reported racial and sexual harassment. Noble Drilling threatened Collins with disciplinary action and wrongfully terminated his employment, the lawsuit claims.

Collins seeks back pay including lost wages and benefits, compensatory damages, attorney fees and costs, as well as other relief to which he may be entitled. A trial by jury has been demanded.

Noble Drilling, based in Sugar Land, Texas, operates about 30 drilling rigs, including 14 jackups and 16 semi-submersibles. In 2015, revenue from Shell Oil accounted from 49 percent of the company’s income. The company announced mass layoffs in January 2016.

Former Texas Department of Agriculture worker files employment lawsuit claiming race discrimination

A former deputy chief financial officer for the Texas Department of Agriculture has filed a lawsuit against the agency, alleging that she was fired because of her race.

Shelia Latting, who is black, claims that her employment was terminated a year ago, and that she was replaced by two white employees who were less qualified.

The lawsuit, filed in state district court in Travis County, names Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller as a defendant, in his official capacity. Latting has been a state employee for 21 years. According to the lawsuit, shortly before Miller was sworn into office, he offered Latting the position of chief financial officer, and she accepted. Latting worked on a budget overhaul at Miller’s request, but was not promoted, and was told her job was terminated due to a “reduction of force,” the lawsuit claims.

Latting claims that two white women were hired to positions essentially the same as her former position. The lawsuit alleges that the two women had worked with an individual at the Texas Facilities Commission, and were hired shortly after that individual was appointed as an assistant commissioner at the Department of Agriculture. An internal audit last April found that the Facilities Commission had often hired employees with no competition and awarded promotions that were unsupported by evaluations. The Austin American-Statesman reported in July that the new assistant commissioner brought six former employees to the Department of Agriculture, and some of them were given quick promotions and raises.

Latting’s lawsuit seeks between $200,000 and $1 million in damages, as well as a change in policy to help prevent future discrimination.

Former employee alleges unpaid overtime in Texas employment lawsuit

A former employee of an environmental services company, who claims that the company did not pay him for overtime worked, has filed an employment lawsuit in federal court in Texas.

The collective action lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, Beaumont Division, by Tommy Breed, individually and for all others similarly situated. Breed alleges that his former employer, Wastewater Specialties, violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by failing to pay him overtime wages.

According to the lawsuit, Wastewater Specialities employed Breed from May 2013 until Sept. 2015. The complaint alleges that Breed and others worked more than 40 hours per week, but were not paid overtime; instead they were paid straight time for what the company called “unbillable” hours.

The lawsuit seeks damages for Breed and others in the class, including compensation for overtime worked, liquidated damages, interest and attorney’s fees and costs.

Wastewater Specialties is an environmental services company that operates in the gulf coast region, with its headquarters in Sulphur, Louisiana, and offices in Texas City and Beaumont.

Certain employees who work more than 40 hours per week are entitled to one and a half times their regular rate of pay, under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and the Texas Payday Law. Certain executive, professional and administrative employees who make more than a certain amount per week are exempt from the overtime requirements.

Texas employment lawsuit claims company made employees work off the clock

An employee at a Texas call center has filed a lawsuit claiming that she and other employees were not paid for work that they were required to do off the clock.

Elissa Shetzer filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas against her employer, Harte-Hanks Response Management/Austin LP, which manages the call center in Texarkana, Texas. Shetzer claims that employees were not paid for time spent on tasks such as logging in to call systems and performing administrative work at the end of their shifts.

The lawsuit alleges that it took approximately 15 minutes to log into the computer system before the start of a shift, which was required in order to be able to take calls. In addition, the suit claims that employees had to spend about 10 minutes after each shift logging off and shutting down computer programs.

According to the lawsuit, if employees were on a call when their shift ended, they were paid only until the end of the phone call, even if there was additional administrative work related to the call that still needed to be completed before they could leave work. In addition, the suit alleges that workers often had to take a final customer call after their phones had automatically clocked them out.

Shetzer claims violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act and is seeking class-action status for her lawsuit. The suit seeks monetary damages, liquidated damages, interests and costs from the defendants.

Nineteen-year employee of Texas firm files lawsuit over alleged FMLA violation

A Texas worker filed a lawsuit against his employer alleging violations of employment law dating to 2014.

Bradford Thompson brought a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, against Total Petrochemicals and Refining USA Inc. The lawsuit, filed on May 6, claimed violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) in 2014 and 2015.

The lawsuit alleged that Thompson has been employed by Total Petrochemicals for more than 19 years and required extensive medical leave in 2014 due to two separate instances of surgery and hospitalization. Thompson claimed that his need for FMLA leave was clearly communicated to his employer. He first suffered a ruptured appendix and later had complications following cataract surgery.

According to his lawsuit, Thompson did not exceed his allotted FMLA leave. After returning to work in March 2015, Thompson claimed that he was put on notice for unsatisfactory work performance and was given a negative work assessment, most of which he was not allowed to see.

Thompson claims that after he argued that he was being criticized on a pretext and that his employer was retaliating against him, he was denied a raise. Thompson claims loss of wages and benefits, emotional distress and damage to future employment prospects. The lawsuit seeks declaratory relief, back and front pay, other damages and attorney’s fees and costs.

More Texas Workers Are Filing Wage-and-Hour Lawsuits

Lawsuits filed by Texas workers claiming wage-and-hour violations have increased by 42 percent over the past three years and have tripled in the past ten years. According to research by Androvett Legal Media, Texas workers filed at least 922 federal lawsuits in 2014 — compared to 632 cases in 2012 and 280 lawsuits in 2004. In 2013, workers filed 1,128 such cases.

In 2014, the U.S. Department of Labor opened new offices in Austin and Temple in 2014 to handle an increased number of complaints the agency is receiving, as well as the increased litigation.

Lawsuits and complaints have been filed over a variety of issues. In one example, employers have required workers to show up to work at a particular time, but did not start the pay clock until later. Other cases involve employers who have refused to pay when employees work overtime without obtaining pre-approval.

Many of the lawsuits are filed under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the 1938 law that created the 40-hour workweek and established overtime pay and the minimum wage.

Legal experts say that a number of factors have contributed to the increase in litigation, including that workers have become more knowledgeable about the law. There has also been growth in small businesses that may not be aware of the law’s requirements. In addition, the statute provides for legal fees, making it relatively easy for workers to obtain legal representation than for other types of cases.

In December 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a case involving workers’ pay. In a unanimous decision, the court held that a temp agency did not have to pay Amazon warehouse workers for the time they spent in a security screening checkpoint as they exited their workplace.

Secretary sues school district for discrimination and harassment

A Texas woman has filed a lawsuit against the school district that formerly employed her as a secretary at a public school. She alleges that she suffered discrimination and harassment during the time that she was employed there.

Tesha Faith Garganta filed the lawsuit against the Spring Independent School District on February 6 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division. Five staff members were also named as defendants: Jeremy Hubbard, dean of instruction; Dean McKeithen, human resources director; Julie Allen, Title IX coordinator; Lenny Hardoin, principal; and Ralph H. Draper, superintendent.

The lawsuit alleges that on November 5, 2013, while Garganta was employed at Edwin M. Wells Middle School as a secretary and bookkeeper, she asked Hubbard to show her where supplies were kept in a room. The complaint alleges that Hubbard followed her into the room, closed the door and made remarks of a sexual nature. The lawsuit also alleges that further incidents took place in December 2013.

According to the complaint, Garganta’s work performance and health were affected by the discrimination and harassment, and no corrective action was taken by the school district. Garganta is seeking damages for lost wages, physical and emotional distress, impairment of earning capacity, medical expenses, punitive damages and attorney’s fees and costs.

Texas woman sues nursing home for race discrimination in employment

A Texas woman has filed a lawsuit against her former employer, claiming race discrimination.

Shireika Whitmore filed suit against HSMTX/LibertyLLC, which does business as Liberty Healthcare Center, in the Beaumont Division of the Eastern District of Texas, citing race discrimination.

According to the complaint, Whitmore began working as a respiratory therapist at Liberty Healthcare’s nursing facility in Liberty, Texas in June 2013. Whitmore alleged that the working environment was heavily charged with racial discrimination and that she was subjected to intolerably abusive actions because of her race.

Whitmore alleges that the director of nursing, a white woman, accused Whitmore, a black woman, of yelling at a white employee. According to the complaint, the director would only take statements from white employees regarding the incident, and black employees who witnessed the incident and wished to give statements were not permitted to do so. Following an investigation initiated by the director, Whitmore’s employment was terminated, the suit states.

Whitmore claims that the director of nursing told her that there was no way for her to save her job as part of the investigation, effectively targeting her for her employment to be terminated.

The lawsuit requests damages for back pay, front pay, pain and suffering, economic losses, exemplary damages, attorney’s fees and costs, along with other relief. A jury trial is requested.

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