HOUSTON – An officer who identified himself as white in the first years of his employment lost a discrimination claim on appeal, as Texas justices found his Hispanic heritage was in dispute.
After Memorial Villages Police Department terminated Gregory DeFrancesco as an officer, he filed suit, alleging MVPD retaliated against him after making complaints about a hostile work environment he claimed was caused by other officers discriminating against him based on his Hispanic heritage and age.
Court records show a trial court granted MVPD’s plea to the jurisdiction, granting the department sovereign immunity.
On March 28, the First Court of Appeals shot down DeFrancesco’s appeal, finding that whether he does in fact have a Hispanic heritage is in dispute.
DeFrancesco was born in Bronx, New York and never knew his biological parents – Bill Ryan, who is Irish, and Barbara Stafford, whose heritage is unknown.
Court records show he was adopted by Steve DeFrancesco, whose parents were born in Italy.
DeFrancesco spoke only English until he became an adult and learned Spanish through formal coursework. He grew up in a primarily Italian neighborhood and identifies himself as having an Italian upbringing, heritage and culture.
According to the opinion, to DeFrancesco, the term “Hispanic” means “somebody that has genetic or relatives that come from a Hispanic country.” He claims that his adoptive grandfather—the father of the man who adopted him—came from Spain and that he is therefore Hispanic.
Apparently, DeFrancesco’s claim of Hispanic heritage is relatively new.
For the first several years of his employment with the Houston Police Department, he identified as “white,” according to the opinion.
Shortly after HPD settled a lawsuit brought by and on behalf of African-American and Hispanic officers, DeFrancesco identified himself as “Hispanic” on an application for a promotion to sergeant.
DeFrancesco spent 28 years with HPD before retiring and then going to work for MVPD, an at-will employer.
Although DeFrancesco claims to be of Hispanic heritage, this has not stopped him from voicing racially derogatory criticisms of Hispanics.
For example, on his Facebook page, DeFrancesco posted an image of what appears to be a group of Mexicans walking through the dessert. The picture is accompanied by a caption that reads, “What is Mexico’s national sport? Cross country.”
DeFrancesco’s posts are not limited to disparaging remarks about Hispanics. They also extend to African-Americans, Middle Easterners and women. His online posts do, however, without exception, praise Italians.
Justices concluded that the evidence conclusively demonstrates DeFrancesco did not engage in a protected activity and that the trial court properly granted MVPD’s plea to the jurisdiction.
DeFrancesco is represented by Houston attorney Scott Poerschke.
Appeals case No. 01-17-00660-CV