Court Finds No Disability Discrimination or Retaliation Stemming from the Counselor’s Termination

Eubank v. Lockhart Indep. Sch. Dist., No. 1:15-CV-1019-RP (W.D. Tex. Jan. 17, 2017).

Magdalena Eubank was a counselor in the Lockhart Independent School District when she was terminated for a number of work performance deficiencies.  A hearing was held before an independent hearing examiner who found good cause for Ms. Eubank’s termination.  She later filed suit claiming that the district had denied her needed medical accommodations in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and that she was terminated for complaining about the denial of those accommodations.  She also raised First Amendment retaliation claims based on emails and other complaints she made about her supervisor.

The district requested dismissal of the suit prior to trial and offered evidence of a number of work performance problems by Ms. Eubank.  The record showed that she had been counseled about being tardy, failing to submit school newsletter articles timely, improperly submitting School Residency Questionnaires for homeless students leading to a denial of benefits, and making derogatory and inflammatory comments to her supervisors, among other things.  The evidence also showed that the district timely granted all of Ms. Eubank’s requested accommodations through informal discussions and memoranda, although there was a slight delay in providing her with formal written notice of her accommodations.  The court found that the delay did not violate the ADA because the district had properly engaged in the interactive process with Ms. Eubank and requested medical documentation from her supporting the request.

Ms. Eubank also alleged First Amendment violations because she claims to have spoken out about her principal to other staff members prior to her termination.  To establish a First Amendment retaliation claim in the public employment context, the employee must establish that: (1) an adverse employment action was taken; (2) she spoke on a matter of public concern; (3) her interest in speaking outweighs the employer’s interest in efficiency; and (4) the protected speech precipitated the adverse employment action.  The court found that her speech did not involve a matter of public concern because it only involved her personal dispute with the district.  Speech that merely criticizes employees or a supervisor’s job performance does not involve a matter of public concern.  Because Ms. Eubank’s speech involved only her personal grievances against the district, it did not support a First Amendment claim.  The court dismissed each of Plaintiff’s claims and entered judgment in favor of the district.

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