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Saturday, September 21, 2019

Appeals court rules fired Houston Community College employee is owed benefits

State Court

By Charmaine Little | Aug 26, 2019

Justice Gordon Goodman

HOUSTON -- Despite the Houston Community College Systems’ argument that an administrative error makes a fired employee ineligible for benefits, the Texas First Court of Appeals ruled Aug. 20 that the woman is owed unemployment benefits. 

Previously, Harris County District Court ruled that Sabrina Y. Lewis was entitled to the benefits. Houston Community College appealed and the appeals court affirmed. 

According to court documents, Lewis worked for HCC from 1992 until 2015, when she was terminated after an altercation with a subordinate. During the altercation, Lewis said the subordinate started “yelling and disrupting the office,” according to the opinion. But HCC said it was Lewis who acted incorrectly. It put her on administrative leave, causing her to hire an attorney before HCC officially fired her. 

Lewis then filed a claim for unemployment. The Texas Workforce Commission approved the benefits but HCC challenged them. Ultimately, the case landed in the lower district court, which also agreed that Lewis should receive the benefits. When HCC appealed, the appeals court also affirmed.  

HCC first alleged that the TWC reopened the hearing and allowed Lewis to bring in new evidence. But the appeals court said, “The decision to reopen the hearing was not a final decision. Rather, it was an interlocutory decision to permit Lewis to present evidence. This determination is not a ‘final decision of the commission’ and it is not subject to judicial review.” 

HCC also took issue with the lower court granting summary judgment for Lewis and the TWC. But the appeals court also added that HCC did not argue this decision with any valid evidence that could prove why the lower court erred in its ruling. Considering this, the appeals court affirmed that Lewis should get benefits.

Justice Peter Kelly wrote the opinion. Justices Evelyn Keyes and Gordon Goodman affirmed.

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