William Allan Kritsonis, PhD Professor THE EMPLOYMENT RELATIONSHIPS
INTRODUCTION Employment Relationships is the relationship that exist between an employer and the employee, it’s a relationship that is created by an employment contract. It is through the employment relationship, however defined, that reciprocal rights and obligations are created between the employee and the employer. The employment relationship has been, and continues to be, the main vehicle through which workers gain access to the rights and benefits associated with employment in the areas of labour law and social security. It is the key point of reference for determining the nature and extent of employers. For the purpose of this report, we will present five cases that relate to Employment Relationships and the importance of the employment contract. Case One Court of Appeals of Texas, San Antonio. NORTH EAST INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, Appellant, v. John KELLEY, Appellee No. 04-08-00162-CV. LITIGANTS Plaintiff’s-Appellant: John Kelly Defendant-Appellees: North East Independent School District BACKGROUND Former school teacher filed suit against school district asserting claims for breach of contract, quantum meriut, declaratory relief, and injunctive relief, after Commissioner of Education denied his grievance seeking an additional day's pay. School district filed plea to the jurisdiction, and parties filed competing motions for summary judgment. The
County Court at Law No. 7, Bexar County, David Rodriguez, J., granted summary judgment to teacher. District appealed. FACTS Kelley was employed by the District pursuant to a written one-year probationary contract. The contract provided that Kelley would be employed "on a 10-month basis for the school year 2000-01, according to the hours and dates set by the district as they exist or may hereafter be amended." The District adopted a teacher salary schedule that was based on 187 working days and a work schedule that required teachers to work 187 days during the 2000-2001 school year. The District required Kelley to attend a graduation ceremony in addition to the 187 days he was required to work. Kelley filed a grievance seeking an additional day's pay and appealed the District's decision to the Commissioner of Education. The Commissioner of Education concluded that Kelley's contract required him *444 to work only 187 days; therefore, the contract did not require Kelley to work an additional day by attending the graduation ceremony. The Commissioner also concluded, however, that the District did not violate the contract by requiring Kelley to work an additional day; instead, Kelley's claim would be a claim for quantum meruit over which the Commissioner had no jurisdiction. Therefore, the Commissioner dismissed the appeal for lack of jurisdiction. Kelley then proceeded on two fronts. First, Kelley filed the underlying lawsuit in Bexar County alleging claims for breach of contract, quantum meruit, declaratory relief, and injunctive relief and requesting attorney's fees and costs. Kelley also filed an administrative appeal of the Commissioner's decision in Travis County. In the Bexar County lawsuit, the District filed a plea to the jurisdiction. The parties also filed competing motions for summary judgment. The district court in Travis County abated its case pending the outcome of the Bexar County lawsuit. The trial court in Bexar County subsequently granted summary judgment in favor of Kelley, awarding him: (1) damages for his breach of contract claim; (2) declaratory relief that the District violated the contract; and (3) injunctive relief prohibiting the District from "illegal conduct (as occurred in this case) in the future." The Bexar County trial court also awarded Kelley attorney's fees and costs. DECISION The District contends that required Kelley to appeal the Commissioner's decision to a district court in Travis County; therefore, the Bexar County court did not have jurisdiction to consider Kelley's breach of contract claim. See Section 7.057(d) provides: A person aggrieved by an action of the agency or decision of the commissioner may appeal to the district court in Travis County. Kelley responds that the Bexar County court had jurisdiction because the Commissioner dismissed his appeal for lack of jurisdiction. Kelley's assertion ignores the basis for the dismissal by the Commissioner as stated in the
Commissioner's written decision. The Commissioner dismissed the appeal based on his conclusion that the only claim available to Kelley was a quantum meruit claim. Any complaint by Kelley that he had viable breach of contract claim had to be appealed to the district court in Travis County pursuant to section 7.057. No other court had jurisdiction to *445 consider the breach of contract claim. Similarly, a declaratory judgment action seeking to determine whether the District's actions violated the contract could not be brought in Bexar County because such a claim challenges the Commissioner's decision that no such complaint existed Because the Bexar County court was without jurisdiction to consider Kelley's breach of contract and declaratory judgment claims, it also was without jurisdiction to award Kelley attorney's fees based on the judgment it entered on those claims. DICTA Kelley contends that because he pled a quantum meruit claim in the alternative, we can affirm the trial court's judgment on that basis. A party may recover under quantum meruit only when there is no express contract covering the services rendered. Accordingly, the trial court necessarily rejected the quantum meruit claim in granting relief on the breach of contract claim. Because the existence of Kelley's quantum meruit claim hinges on the non-existence of his breach of contract claim, and his breach of contract claim is within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Commissioner under appeal in Travis County, the Bexar County trial court was required to abate that claim until the appeal of the administrative proceedings was concluded. IMPLICATIONS The trial court's judgment is reversed. Kelley's claims for breach of contract and declaratory judgment are dismissed. The *446 cause is remanded to the trial court with instructions to abate its proceedings with regard to Kelley's quantum meruit and injunction claims pending the final resolution of Kelley's appeal of the Commissioner's decision in Travis County. Case Two Court of Appeals of Texas, Houston (14th Dist.). GALVESTON INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, Appellant, v. Brent JACO, Appellee. No. 14-08-00271-CV. LITIGANTS
Plaintiff’s –Appellant: GALVESTON INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT Defendant-Appellees: Brent Jaco BACKGROUND Employee athletic director brought action against employer school district, alleging the district took adverse personnel action against him in violation of the Texas Whistleblower Act. District sought dismissal of action in plea to jurisdiction. The 56th District Court, Galveston County, Lonnie Cox, J., denied plea. District appealed. FACTS Brent Jaco was employed by the District as Director of Athletics and Extracurricular Activities. On or about November 9, 2005, Jaco learned that a student on the Ball High School football team was in violation of a University Interscholastic League ("UIL") rule regarding parent residency. Jaco discussed the possible UIL violation with school officials, and with the District's approval, he submitted a written report to the UIL on November 9, 2005 regarding the violation. As a result of the violation, Ball High School's football team was barred from participating in the playoffs. On December 16, 2005, the District reassigned Jaco to the position of athletic trainer. On January 6, 2006, Jaco appealed the transfer through the District's administrative grievance process. After a hearing, the District reinstated Jaco's job *479 position as Director of Extracurricular Activities, but not Director of Athletics. Thereafter, the District did not offer Jaco his previous position of Director of Athletics or Director of Extracurricular Activities for the 2006-07 school year. Instead, on May 1, 2006, the District offered Jaco a term contract as a teacher. On April 4, 2006, Jaco filed suit against the District, alleging violations under the Texas Whistleblower's Act.The District initially filed a no-evidence and traditional summary-judgment motion, which the trial court denied, and we dismissed the District's interlocutory appeal for want of jurisdiction. The District then filed a plea to the jurisdiction in which it asserted that (a) the District's actions do not constitute an adverse employment act, (b) the UIL rule is not a law, and (c) the UIL is not an "an appropriate law enforcement authority" as that term is used in Code. The trial court denied the plea, and this interlocutory appeal ensued. In three issues, the District challenges the trial court's denial of its plea to the jurisdiction, arguing that (a) the pleadings and evidence show no waiver of immunity from suit, (b) Jaco admitted he did not report a violation of law to an appropriate law enforcement agency, and (c) Jaco admitted he never suffered a material adverse employment action. Although the District argued for the first time in its reply brief that Jaco admits he failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, we do not have jurisdiction to consider grounds outside those raised in the plea to the jurisdiction. DECISION
Because jurisdiction is a question of law, the trial court's ruling on a plea to the jurisdiction is subject to de novo review. In a suit against a governmental unit, the plaintiff must affirmatively demonstrate the trial court's jurisdiction by alleging a valid waiver of immunity. To determine if the plaintiff has met that burden, "we consider the facts alleged by the plaintiff and, to the extent it is relevant to the jurisdictional issue, the evidence submitted by the parties. (stating that the plaintiff has the burden to plead facts affirmatively showing that the trial court has subject-matter jurisdiction). We do not consider the merits of the plaintiff's case, but focus instead on the pleadings and the evidence pertinent to the jurisdictional inquiry. We construe the pleadings liberally in favor of conferring jurisdiction. Nevertheless, a waiver of immunity must be clear and unambiguous. Thus, we determine whether the plaintiff has pleaded a claim for which a governmental unit has waived immunity by reading the pleadings broadly *480 and the alleged waiver narrowly. If the pleadings do not contain sufficient facts to affirmatively demonstrate the trial court's jurisdiction but do not affirmatively demonstrate incurable defects in jurisdiction, the issue is one of pleading sufficiency, and the plaintiff should be afforded the opportunity to amend. If, on the other hand, the pleadings affirmatively negate the existence of jurisdiction, then a plea to the jurisdiction may be granted without allowing the plaintiff an opportunity to amend In its first issue, the District argues that the trial court's denial of its plea is erroneous because the District's substantive arguments, addressed here in its second and third issues, are jurisdictional. The District contends in its second issue that the trial court erred in denying its plea to the jurisdiction because "Jaco admits he did not report a violation of law to an appropriate law enforcement agency, which is fatal to his assertion of a waiver of governmental immunity and, generally, his claim." This statement encompasses the District's three subsidiary arguments that (a) Jaco admits he did not make a "report," (b) the UIL's parental residency rule is not a "law," and (c) the UIL is not the appropriate agency to which a violation should be reported. The District argues in its third issue that no adverse employment action occurred because it merely changed Jaco's title and he accepted a contract as a teacher the following year. Before reaching the merits of these arguments, we must first determine if they raise jurisdictional issues. Although the District attempts to analogize a claim under the Whistleblower Act to a claim under the Texas Tort Claims Act ("the TTCA"), there are significant differences between the two. The TTCA creates a statutory scheme in which immunity to suit and immunity to liability are coextensive. Consequently, the elements of a TTCA claim can be considered jurisdictional, because evidence that challenges an element of the claim necessarily challenges the trial court's subject-matter jurisdiction. A party therefore can demonstrate the trial court's lack of jurisdiction over a TTCA claim by establishing that the claim lacks merit.The Whistleblower Act, however, the waiver of immunity from suit is broader than the waiver of immunity from liability. In this case the court reached this conclusion even though it held that Brent could not prevail on the merits because he did not suffer an adverse personnel action. DICTA
The Court of Appeals, Eva M. Guzman, J., held that school athletic director was a public employee who alleged a violation of the Whistleblower Act in manner as to establish district's waiver of immunity. Affirmed. IMPLICATIONS The trial court concludes that the District has failed to raise a jurisdictional issue; It was affirm the trial court's denial of its plea to the jurisdiction. Case Three Court of Appeals of Texas, El Paso. Marcelino FRANCO, Appellant, v. YSLETA INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, Appellee. No. 08-07-00160-CV. LITIGANTS Plaintiffs- Appellants: Marcelino FRANCO Defendant- Appellee: YSLETA INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT BACKGROUND After school principal brought action asserting claims against school district for alleged violations of the Texas Whistleblower Act, asserting that he was indefinitely suspended from his job after he reported asbestos hazards to school district officials, the school district moved to enforce a settlement agreement. No action was taken on the motion, and the school district then moved for summary judgment, asserting that principal breached the agreement by failing to dismiss the action. The 34th Judicial District Court, El Paso County, granted the motion and entered summary judgment in favor of the school district. School principal appealed. FACTS An enforceable contract is formed when the following essential elements are satisfied between the parties to an agreement: (1) an offer; (2) an acceptance in strict compliance with the terms of the offer; (3) a meeting of the minds; (4) each party's consent to the terms; and (5) execution and delivery of the contract with the intent that it be mutual and binding.
In determining enforceability of a purported contract, whether the parties have come to a “meeting of the minds,” and therefore acceptance of the offer, is measured objectively according to what the parties said and did, and the parties' subjective thoughts and beliefs do not control. A genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether school principal formed a binding settlement agreement with school district to release his whistleblower claims, or whether board of trustees' approval of the settlement was an unmet condition precedent to the formation of the agreement, and thus, summary judgment for school district was precluded in the principal's whistleblower case. The doctrine of “substantial performance” applies in breach of contract actions, and allows a party who has only substantially performed its contract obligations to recover for the opposing party's breach. DECISION The District focuses the arguments in its brief on evidence that it has substantially performed its obligations as outlined in the March 27 letter, and that Mr. Franco has breached the agreement by not dismissing the lawsuit. The doctrine of substantial performance applies in breach of contract actions, and allows a party who has only substantially performed its contract obligations to recover for the opposing party's breach. DICTA The court of appeals, David Wellington Chew, C.J. held that a triable issue existed as to whether school principal formed a binding settlement agreement with the district to release his claims. Reversed and remanded. IMPLICATIONS A settlement agreement is a contract, and is governed by principles generally applicable under contract law. See Kosty v. S. Shore Harbour Cmty. Ass'n, Inc., 226 S.W.3d 459, 464 (Tex.App.-Houston [1st Dist.] 2006, pet. denied). An enforceable contract is formed when the following essential elements are satisfied between the parties to the agreement: (1) an offer; (2) an acceptance in strict compliance with the terms of the offer; (3) a meeting of the minds; (4) each party's consent to the terms; and (5) execution and delivery of the contract with the intent that it be mutual and binding. Copeland v. Alsobrook, 3 S.W.3d 598, 604 (Tex.App.-San Antonio 1999, pet. denied). Whether the parties have come to a “meeting of the minds,” and therefore acceptance of the offer, is measured objectively according to what the parties said and did. Id. The parties' subjective thoughts and beliefs do not control. Id. When the “meeting of the minds” element is contested, it is a question for the fact finder. Case Four
Court of Appeals of Texas, Beaumont. Jamie WILSON, Appellant v. WEST ORANGE-COVE CONSOLIDATED INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT AND O.T. Collins, Appellees. No. 09-08-00068-CV. LITIGANTS Plaintiffs- Appellants: Jamie WILSON Defendant- Appellee: WEST ORANGE-COVE CONSOLIDATED INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT AND O.T. Collins BACKGROUND Appellant, Jamie Wilson was employed by West Orange-Cove Consolidated Independent School District (“District”) as an assistant principal under a two-year term contract of employment. On or around March of 2007 Wilson was reprimanded for unethical conduct by Superintendent O.T. Collins. Wilson appealed the reprimand through Level IV of the district's grievance policy, but did not pursue an administrative appeal of the School Board's final decision to the Commissioner of Education. FACTS Wilson was reprimanded for allegedly viewing, during school hours, a videotaped deposition that Collins gave in an unrelated lawsuit that was then pending against the District. After the reprimand was given to Wilson, a copy was placed in her personnel file. The Commissioner of Education is authorized to review claims in which the person “is aggrieved by” ... the “ school laws of this state”; or actions or decisions by a school board that violate either school laws of the state or a provision of a written employment contract between a school district and an employee of the district if the violation would cause the employee to suffer monetary harm. TEX. EDUC.CODE ANN. § 7.057(a) (Vernon 2006). The term “ school laws of this state” is defined to include all statutes contained in Titles 1 and 2 of the Education Code and “rules adopted under those titles.” DECISION Wilson's declaratory judgment action also sought a declaration that her state constitutional rights were violated. A declaratory judgment that the school district
violated Wilson's constitutional rights would serve no purpose. Such a declaration would neither work to enjoin the school district from further suspending Wilson, nor would it mandate reinstatement under her employment contract because she no longer has an employment contract with the district. A judgment in the underlying case would have no practical legal effect upon the parties; it would do no more than attempt to “avoid an event which [has] already passed beyond recall.” Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., 617 S.W.2d at 767.Wilson made no other claims and sought no other relief against the defendants; therefore, the controversy between the parties has ceased to exist. DICTA Appeal of school district's former employee regarding trial court's dismissal of action seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against district was moot. Former employee no longer had employment contract with the district, and thus any injunction prohibiting further suspension or order for reinstatement under employment contract was no longer possible relief. Also, a declaratory judgment that the school district violated former employee's constitutional rights would serve no purpose. IMPLICATIONS Ms. Wilson’s claim of a violation of her constitutional right’s in my opinion are null and void because her evaluations reflect that her performance as a teacher are below expectation which was the basis for her contract to be nonrenewable. Case Five Court of Appeals of Texas, Beaumont. Nora Kathryn CONROY, Appellant v. NACOGDOCHES INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT, Appellee. No. 09-05-362 CV. LITIGANTS Plaintiffs-Appellant: Nora Kathryn CONROY Defendants-Appellee: NACOGDOCHES INDEPENDENT SCHOOL DISTRICT BACKGROUND At the time Conroy filed her petition, she had been employed as a special education diagnostician by NISD for three years. In November 2002, Conroy and sixteen
other special education staff members at NISD filed and signed a complaint with the TEA reporting violations of state and federal law in the NISD special education program. The TEA conducted an initial investigation of the special education program. In January 2003, the TEA sent NISD Superintendent Dr. Tony Riehl a letter advising him of the allegations contained in the complaint and directing the district to take corrective action. In March 2003, in a letter to the United States Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, Conroy again complained of violations of state and federal regulations in the special education program. Twelve of the original sixteen signatories to the TEA complaint also signed this letter. In August 2003, NISD's Special Education Director Debbie Walker informed Conroy she would be transferred from the elementary school to the high school for the 2003-2004 school year. Conroy had previously told Walker that Conroy did not want to go to the high school and Conroy's specialization was in working with very young children. In October 2003, while working at the high school, Conroy received a directive from High School Principal Elizabeth Ballenger instructing her to follow the admission, review, and dismissal procedures. Conroy brought suit against NISD under the Texas Whistleblower Act alleging her transfer to the high school and the October 2003 directive were retaliation for her reports to the TEA and U.S. Department of Education. FACTS Appellant Nora Kathryn Conroy, a diagnostician employed in the Nacogdoches Independent School District's special education department, filed suit against the school district under the Whistleblower Act. Conroy appeals the trial court's final order granting NISD's no-evidence motion for summary judgment. NISD cross-appeals the trial court's order denying NISD'S motion to transfer venue. We affirm the trial court's judgment as modified. DECISION For Conroy to prevail on her claim, she must establish (1) she is a public employee; (2) she acted in good faith in making her report; (3) the report involved a violation of law; (4) the report was made to an appropriate law enforcement authority; and (5) she suffered retaliation as a result of making the report. Employees filing a whistleblower action must prove all elements of their claim by a preponderance of the evidence. Conroy argues the trial court erred in granting NISD's no-evidence motion for summary judgment because more than a scintilla of evidence established “causation” between Conroy's report of violations and her transfer and the October 2003 directive. To show causation, a public employee must demonstrate that after he or she reported a violation of the law in good faith to an appropriate law enforcement authority, the employee suffered discriminatory conduct by his or her employer that would not have occurred when it did if the employee had not reported the illegal conduct. DICTA
The Court of Appeals, Beaumont, Judge David V. Wilson ruled that Conroy failed to present more than a scintilla of evidence to support the causation element to her claim and we affirm the trial court's judgment as modified. We need not address NISD's cross appeal. IMPLICATIONS A whistleblower is a person who publicly alleges concealed misconduct on the part of an organization or body of people, usually from within that same organization. This misconduct may be classified in many ways; for example, a violation of a law, rule, or regulation. The Appellant was not successful in her suit because of lack of evidence regarding reasons for her termination and dismissal.