In a recent decision, the Texas Supreme Court found in favor of an employee. And, as far as I know it did not snow last July. In Green v. Dallas County Schools, No. 16-0214 (Tex. 5/12/2017), Paul Green a bus monitor, urinated on himself while on the bus. He was fired and sued. The jury awarded him $41,000 in lost pay and $125,000 in compensatory (emotional suffering) damages. He had been battling congestive heart failure and was taking medications which made him incontinent. Mr. Green had told the bus driver he needed to use a restroom but the driver ignored him. There were no students on the bus. Yet, the driver would not stop a a restroom. He eventually urinated into a bottle and got his pants wet. Three weeks later, he took a week off from work and was fired when he returned. The school said he put the safety of students at risk by peeing into a bottle and was unprofessional.
At trial, the parties agreed the plaintiff suffered from a disability. The only question at trial was whether he was fired because of his disability. The jury found he was. The Court of Appeals reversed and issued a take-nothing judgment, saying there was no evidence the disability caused the incontinence. The Texas Supreme Court, however, found that the urinary incontinence itself was a disability, because it was a side effect of the underlying condition. The Court noted that at trial, the Plaintiff might not have argued that clearly to the court of appeals, that the incontinence itself was an impairment. But, the plaintiff certainly did mention to the court of appeals that the incontinence was part of his disability.
Dallas County Schools then argued that there was no evidence that the supervisors knew Green suffered from incontinence. But, noted the Supreme Court, Green himself testified that he told the decision-maker that he was taking a “fluid pill” that made him incontinent and that he suffered from a condition that made him urinate involuntarily. In reading the Fifth District’s opinion, the court did seem concerned that there was no “undisputed” evidence connecting the medication to incontinence. It seemed overly concerned about whether the evidence was disputed at trial – as if the evidence might not be disputed at trial. The court of appeals seems more concerned about re-weighing the evidence than in allowing the jury to draw an inference. This appeal strikes me as almost frivolous. It should have been an easy decision to uphold the jury. Some courts of appeals just seem determined to undermine a jury finding. See the Texas Supreme Court decision here.