By Charmaine Little | Mar 28, 2019

HOUSTON – The Texas Court of Appeals for the First District recently upheld a summary judgment in favor of Doubletree Hotel in a retaliation lawsuit filed by a former maintenance technician.

The March 19 opinion was written by Justice Julie Countiss, with Chief Justice Sherry Radack and Justice Gordon Goodman concurring, regarding the appeal filed by Robert J. Sykes, who filed the appeal after the 201st District Court in Travis County granted a motion by Driftwood Hospitality Management LLC, doing business as Doubletree Hotel, for summary judgment.

Sykes sued for retaliation, accusing Doubletree of violating the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA), when it fired him after he reported harassment. In his appeal, he claimed the lower court erred in its decision.

“Here, the evidence presented to the trial court on summary judgment does not support Sykes’ assertion that the complaints he made constituted protected activities,” the appeals court said. 

In his complaint, Sykes said he was harassed when a colleague said he didn’t know what he was doing, he was “lazy” and “incompetent.” The colleague also allegedly questioned Sykes' work history.

During deposition, Sykes was asked for actual statements that the co-worker made toward him. Sykes said, “Anything I did pretty much felt like he was just – just bugging, watching me,” according to the opinion. More importantly, Sykes couldn’t recall an instance when the colleague actually said something about his race or age.

“Although ‘magic words’ are not required to invoke the TCHRA’s anti-retaliation protection, generally complaining only of ‘harassment, a hostile environment, discrimination or bullying’ is not enough,” the appeals court said.

Sykes, an African-American, was 56 when hired by the company as a maintenance technician. He said he experienced “multiple instances of harassment” from a younger employee, who he said was Mexican-American, court filings said.

After taking the issue to the human resources manager, who is also Mexican-American, the employee allegedly continued to harass him in front of the corporate director, who is Caucasian, with no disciplinary action. The company ultimately fired Sykes, who said it was because of him reporting the alleged harassment. Sykes sued, and the defendant denied the allegations, filing a no-evidence summary judgment, which the lower court granted.

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