December, 2014 | The Law Offices of Gregory D. Jordan

Texas federal court declines to apply Texas choice of law in non-compete lawsuit

A recent lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas illustrated the importance of choice-of-law provisions in employee non-compete agreements.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit were employees of F&M Bank, based in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As part of a merger between F&M Bank and Texas-based Prosperity Bank, Prosperity offered the employees new employment agreements that included non-compete agreements.

After the April 2014 merger, some employees were dissatisfied with their new positions and filed suit in Oklahoma state court, seeking a declaration that the non-compete agreements were not enforceable. Prosperity filed an action in Texas state court, seeking a declaration that the non-compete agreements were enforceable. The cases were removed to federal court and consolidated in the Southern District of Texas.

After the employees resigned their positions with Prosperity and began working at CrossFirst Bank in Tulsa, dueling choice-of-law motions were filed by the parties. Although the case was in federal court in Texas, concerning a Texas employer, and the non-compete agreements had a Texas choice-of-law provision, the court ruled that Oklahoma law applied, as the employees lived and worked in Oklahoma.

Oklahoma law is far more restrictive of non-compete agreements than Texas law, and the court entered summary judgment for the plaintiffs, holding that the non-compete agreements were not enforceable.

Texas oil driller sued for tortious interference

In a closely watched dispute between two neighboring mineral operators, the San Antonio Court of Appeals ruled that Lightning Oil Co., the plaintiff lease owner, could not receive a temporary injunction preventing Anadarko E&P Onshore, LLC, a neighboring lease owner, from drilling through the plaintiff’s mineral estate to reach the defendant’s own mineral estate.

In the Eagle Ford Shale in Texas, Anadarko owned leases for mineral interests beneath the Chaparral Wildlife Management Area. The lease required Anadarko to use offsite drilling locations when prudent and feasible. Lightning owns adjacent mineral leases, and Briscoe Ranch, Inc. owns the surface above Lightning’s leases. Anadarko entered into an agreement with Briscoe to establish drill sites on Briscoe’s land, drill through – but not produce from – Lightning’s leases, and drill from Anadarko’s own lease.

Lightning sought an injunction, claiming that its own mineral interests could be harmed by Anadarko’s proposed drilling activity. Lightning argued that drilling fluid could seep into Lightning’s mineral interests if Anadarko failed to case its wells properly. In that case, Lightning would be forced to drill extra offset wells in order to prevent drainage occurring from Anadarko’s wells.

The trial court denied the injunction, and the appellate court affirmed, stating that Lightning had failed to show an imminent and irreparable harm that would result from the drilling activity.

Female City Employees in Texas Allege Pay Discrimination Based on Their Sex

Three female employees of the City of San Antonio, Texas have filed a federal lawsuit alleging pay discrimination.

Christine Peden and Jeanne Martinez, employees of the City’s Animal Care Services, discovered they were being paid less than male coworkers with the same job title of operations managers. They filed a federal lawsuit, which was joined by Brenda Werts, then an employee of the Capital Improvements Management Services department. The lawsuit alleges violation of the federal Equal Pay Act and pay discrimination. Martinez and Peden also accuse the city of retaliating against them after they raised their concerns about pay.

The women’s arguments were recently supported by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency that investigates employment discrimination, which found that the City had indeed discriminated against them. The EEOC also found that the City’s use of “counseling letters” to respond to the women’s concerns about their pay constituted a violation of the Equal Pay Act. The EEOC is now attempting to facilitate a settlement between the City and the women through a “conciliation” process.

The federal lawsuit is proceeding separately. According to the women’s attorney, the lawsuit is in the discovery process, and mediation efforts have been unsuccessful thus far.

According to the National Women’s Law Center, Texas’ gender wage disparity is comparable to the national pay gap between women and men. On average in the U.S. and in Texas, women earn $0.79 for every $1.00 men earn.

The Equal Pay Act provides that women and men in the same workplace, who work substantially equal jobs, be given equal pay. The Act applies to all types of pay, including salary, wages, bonuses and vacation pay. Employers are not permitted to reduce the pay of either sex to correct a wage disparity.

Texas teacher accuses Houston school district of discrimination

A former Texas teacher has filed a lawsuit against the Houston Independent School District, claiming that he was fired because of his race and because he filed grievances against the school.

Robert Green filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division.

In the lawsuit, Green says that he is an African-American male who was employed as a fourth grade teacher in the school district. He claims he was told in April 2013 that his contract would not be renewed due to poor job performance. Green states that he was not informed of any issues regarding his job performance beforehand.

Green alleges that in March 2013, a new principal, Toren Woolridge, was hired. Green claims that Woolridge criticized his job performance and accused him of threatening Woolridge, but that Woolridge actually threatened him. Green said he filed claims with the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reporting the incident.

According to further claims in the lawsuit, Green was not given an opportunity to correct any alleged deficiencies in his job performance before his employment was terminated.

Green alleges race discrimination, breach of contract and retaliation. He is seeking an unspecified amount of damages for lost pay, earning potential and benefits.

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