Alma Guzman-Estrada worked for Southside Independent School District for 30 years. She was fired. She sued Southside ISD for discrimination and retaliation. Then she was elected to the school board. The former employee, now a school trustee, had her day in court and has now lost. See San Antonio Express News report. The judge found no evidence that the firing was in response to her complaint about discrimination regarding her wages. The court found the reasons for her firing were not retaliatory – apparently beliving the district’s claim that she was a problem employee prior to her complaints about wages. I have previously written about this lawsuit here and here.
The plaintiff’s lawyer had claimed the perceived problems with Ms. Guzman-Etsrada had not been docuemented at the time. But, there was an email to the plaintiff in October, 2009 warning her that her behavior at work was a problem. Ms. Guzman-Etsrada responded that the email was “offensive,” but she did not address the underlying concerns. A few weeks later, the plaintiff complained that she had not been invited to a Thanksgiving lunch with the Superintendent. She emailed the superintendent telling him that omitting her was a “grave and serious” concern. She accused a colleague of being a “wetback.” She was accused of other behavior issues.
About the time of the lunch non-invitation, She filed her grievance alleging problems in her pay. When the grievance was heard in February, 2010, she raised the issue of discrimination for the first time, said the court. In January, 2010, her supervisor had recommended that she be fired.
In April, 2010, the district’s lawyer sent letters to the plaintiff’s lawyer offering to provide them with the results of their investigation into her claims of discriminatory pay. The employer offered to provide copies of witness statements. Ms. Guzman’s lawyer, said the court, never responded.
Anytime a 30 year employee is fired, that sounds suspicious. But, if the evidence is as the Judge described, then her case had some serious flaws. The recommendation to fire her was apparently made before she first claimed discrimination. The behavior issues started before she complained about discrimination. And, her lawyer did not respond to an early attempt to review the available evidence. The lawyer may have had good reason to ignore the offer. But, ignoring an early offer to review the evidence suggests the plaintiff was more interested in a lawsuit than in early resolution.
The plaintiff, said the court, was making $42,000 per year. If that number is correct, then the plaintiff’s offer to settle for $800,000 and later for $600,000 are exceedingly high. At the time she made these offers, her lost pay would not amount to more than one year’s pay. As I have mentioned on this site before, many juries do not award a successful plaintiff compensatory damages, at all. But, if they do award emotional suffering type damages, then they award no more than the equivalent of one or two year’s lost pay and benefits.
Compensatory (or emotional suffering type) damages are limited to $300,000. So, an offer of $600,000 means the plaintiff was seeking $300,000 for lost pay and benefits or some amount close to that. But, one year of lost pay for Ms. Guzman-Estrada would only amount to $42,000. Her two offers appear to seek much more in compensatory damages than the typical jury would award.
Settling a case is art, not science. But, one certain way to ensure no response from the employer is to make the initial offer so high that the offer appears to be based on fiction. Ms. Guzman’s lawyer may have had some very good strategy. Looking at this from the outside, we can never know what actually happened and why. But, if the plaintiff simply pulled numbers out of the air, then they could not reasonably expect to settle the case.
So, Ms. Guzman-Estrada loses her lawsuit entirely. Her lawyer indicated they would consider filing an appeal.