IT’S JUST LUNCH: TEXAS SUPREME COURT CLARIFIES WHAT CONSTITUTES A REASONABLE GOOD-FAITH ALLEGATION OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT UNDER THE TCHRA.

San Antonio Water System v. Nicholas
Supreme Court of Texas, No. 13-0966 (April 24, 2015)
Opinion by Justice Brown
After a female paralegal with SAWS complained that a male executive had repeatedly asked her to lunch, making her uncomfortable, Nicholas met with the male executive to discuss the complaint. Nicholas, along with SAWS’s CEO, counseled the male executive and admonished him to refrain from asking women in the organization to lunch. Roughly two years later, Nicholas was reassigned to a position that reported directly to the male executive. One year later, Nicholas’s position was eliminated. Nicholas sued SAWS under the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act, alleging she was retaliated against for opposing a discriminatory employment practice. A jury agreed and awarded Nicholas nearly $1 million in damages.

The Texas Supreme Court disagreed, concluding that—as a matter of law—no reasonable person could conclude the lunch invitations complained of gave rise to an actionable claim of sexual harassment. Moreover, the fact that SAWS instructed Nicholas to reprimand and counsel the executive is insufficient to establish an objective good-faith belief that sexual harassment occurred. Rather, the Texas Supreme Court reasoned, the evidence suggested SAWS took immediate action to prevent conduct that is not actionable from escalating into conduct that is actionable. Because Nicholas did not engage in protected activity, the Court reversed the judgment in favor of Nicholas.

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