Appellate court partially remands discrimination suit against UT Health back to trial court

By Elizabeth Alt | Jul 18, 2018

HOUSTON – A lawsuit alleging a former nurse’s boss at UT Health Science Center-Houston bullied and threatened her based on her gender and race was partially remanded back to trial court by the 1st District Court of Appeals.

HOUSTON – A lawsuit alleging a former nurse’s boss at UT Health Science Center-Houston bullied and threatened her based on her gender and race was partially remanded back to trial court by the 1st District Court of Appeals.

Justice Laura Carter Higley wrote the order for the 1st District Court of Appeals on June 26 with Justices Harvey Brown and Jennifer Caughey concurring, stating that the 270th District Court of Harris County “improperly granted” summary judgment to UT Health for claims alleging racial discrimination, retaliation and constructive discharge.

“We hold that the summary judgment was properly granted in UT Health’s favor as to Hartranft’s gender-discrimination claim, but it was improperly granted as to the remainder of her claims, we affirm the judgment in part and reverse in part and remand,” the order states.

Jeanne Hartranft sued her former employer, UT Health Science Center-Houston, over claims that her supervisor David Riley “subjected her to harassment, threats of physical violence, and abusive treatment based on her gender and race.” 

Hartranft resigned four months after being hired in the telephone-triage department in March 2014.

Hartranft claims she brought concerns over Riley’s abusive treatment towards her to UT Health human-resources representative Sandra Kelley and to Dr. Tyson, the department manager. Two other female Caucasian employees also filed cases. The complaint alleges Riley gave preferential treatment to the only African-American nurse. All three of the nurses “stated that the pattern of ongoing harassment of the non-African-American nurses continued through June or July 2014, the date of each nurse’s separation based on firing or resignation.”

The suit states that Tyson twisted the women’s answers while investigating the complaints and stated that none of the women were in any danger or threatened by Riley. Hartranft also says that Kelley dismissed the claims and expressed that she would protect Riley.

Hartranft claimed that the constant bullying and abuse led her to quit as she feared she would be physically abused as well.

UT Health filed a motion for summary judgment, stating that Hartranft’s claims fail as a matter of law. UT Health argued that the Hartranft’s claims were not “severe or pervasive enough to alter the conditions of her employment or to create a hostile work environment,” referring to an incident where Riley “either kicked or threw his chair and nearly struck Hartranft in the face with his hand as he lunged” at another nurse. UTHealth argued that Hartranft’s resignation was not a constructive discharge.

The trial court granted summary judgment on all claims to UT Health. Hartranft appealed, claiming the trial court erred in granting judgment to UT Health.

Higley stated that “Hartranft’s evidence showed that she and the other nurses complained about Riley’s conduct, however, Smith and Dr. Tyson downplayed and discounted the complaints, taking no action to correct the situation. Her evidence also indicated that Dr. Tyson acted in a manner to dissuade the nurses from assisting (co-worker Christie) Carver with her grievance.”

The court affirmed the trial court judgment for UT Health for the gender-based claims but reversed the ruling for all other claims. The case has been remanded back to the trial court for further proceedings.

Court of Appeals for the 1st District of Texas case number 01-16-01014-CV

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