Thursday, August 10, 2017

Houston Court of Appeals Rejects Direct Evidence

Originally published by Thomas J. Crane.

“Direct” evidence of discrimination generally means a statement that clearly indicates discriminatory intent. In one of my early cases, a San Antonio manager said “we need to get rid of all the lazy ass niggers here.” That statement clearly evinces discriminatory intent.The bias is clear with no need for additional explanation. In Okpere v. National Oilwell Varco, LLP, No. 14-15-00694, 2017 WL 1086340 (Tex.App. Hou. 3/25/2017), the Houston Court of Appeals discusses direct evidence regarding a man with a disability. Ehimarey H. Okpere worked for NOV for four months. He suffered a stroke and returned to work within days. He was terminated 13 days later. Mr. Okpere testified that his team leader said the supervisor said upper management let him go because of his condition, the stroke. The team leader, however, denied the statement. A statement against interest is not considered hearsay. A statement against interest by management would be admissible. So, a statement by management that upper management took an action which violates the ADA would normally be admissible. The problem here is that the team leader is not offering his opinion about why Mr. Okpere was fired. He is quoting his boss. The team leader was not offering his own opinion, but the opinion of the supervisor. So, his statement is hearsay within hearsay.

The Houston Court of Appeals felt that was too large a jump from the person uttering the statement to the person who heard it. The result likely would have been different if the employee was told this by the supervisor directly. But, this statement was uttered by someone who merely heard the supervisor utter the statement. The court found that even direct evidence is subject to the hearsay rules. That is, hearsay within hearsay is hearsay.

The employer otherwise defended against the lawsuit by claiming the Human Resources person who fired the worker did not know he had suffered a stroke. He did not know that Mr. Okpere had a disability. But, the timing was remarkable. The plaintiff was fired just 13 days after returning to work. NOV said it fired the employee because he was late for work that morning. The company claimed it would not normally fire a worker for being late one time. It pointed to an ambiguous comment on Mr. Okpere’s prior time card indicating he had been late before. The court then parses the evidence to find that Mr. Okpere’s testimony that he had never been late was not consistent with other parts of his testimony.

Anytime a court has to parse and get into exacting detail about a person’s testimony, then summary judgment is not appropriate. But, the Houston court of appeals appeared to be more interested in affirming summary judgment. See the decision here.

Curated by Texas Bar Today. Follow us on Twitter @texasbartoday.

from Texas Bar Today
via Abogado Aly Website

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