A school district employee sued her former district, alleging that she had been illegally terminated in retaliation for expressing her opposition to discrimination. The employee was an executive director and was responsible for schools within a specific feeder system, including supervising the principals of those schools. She received excellent evaluations.

A complaint was filed by parents of Hispanic students at one of the employee’s feeder schools. The parents complained that they felt unwelcome at the school and ignored by the African American principal. During the investigation of the complaint, the employee, who is African American, sent an email to her supervisor, accusing him of circumventing the chain of command by meeting with the parents without attempting to meet with her first. In the email, she stated that “your actions appear biased, unethical and to have a racist tenor” directed at the principal and her. The employee’s supervisor subsequently resigned and was replaced by an African American female.

The employee’s new supervisor began calling her into her office to ask questions about anonymous complaints at the high school that was the subject of the prior complaint. She then gave her a bad performance review, allegedly without having the opportunity to adequately observe the employee’s performance. The employee sent her supervisor a memo, expressing her dissatisfaction with her oversight of this feeder system. In it, she complained that she was repeatedly questioned about items she had already investigated and was being attacked based on anonymous complaints and gossip.

Ultimately, the employee was terminated. She filed suit, alleging that she had been terminated for opposing discrimination. The district requested that the lawsuit be dismissed and the trial court granted that motion. The employee appealed the decision.

The court of appeals noted that the employee was required to prove that she engaged in a protected activity and that an adverse employment was taken against her as a result of that. An employee engages in protected activity when she opposes a discriminatory practice. However, the employee must also be able to prove that there is a causal link between the protected activity and the adverse employment action.

In this case, the district was able to show that there were non-discriminatory reasons for the termination. Specifically, the employee’s friend was employed as a principal in the feeder system under her supervision. The friend hired the employee’s daughter as a teacher at the school. The employee was directed to transfer her daughter to another campus outside of her chain of supervision and she did not act on this directive in a timely manner. As a result, the district received conflict of interest complaints and local media questioned the ethics of the situation. There also were concerns that the employee was failing to use the mandatory biometric clock to clock in and out of work and was not requiring principals under her supervision to do so.

The employee was not able to prove that the non-discriminatory reasons for termination were a pretext for retaliation. Therefore, the court of appeals upheld the dismissal of her case.