By LOUIE DIAZ
On March 11, the Texas 13th Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s denial of the San Benito CISD’s plea regarding age discrimination against Maria Concepcion Cruz. The court released a memorandum opinion by Chief Justice Dori Contreras.
Cruz was an employee of SBCISD for over 20 years. According to the opinion, Cruz noted that former executive director of academics, Hector Madrigal, informed her on Jan. 12, 2018, that she was going to be removed from her role as director. SBCISD Superintendent Nate Carman issued a letter to Cruz on June 19, 2018 advising her that she would be demoted to Director of Elementary Instruction to Title 1 Coordinator effective July 2, 2018; she was 68-years-old at the time. Her position was filled by Olivia Flores, who was a serving as a principal of an elementary school, she was 67-years-old at the time. One year later, Flores was replaced by Dilia Cornett who was 49-years-old.
Cruz’s team argued that, Cornett was her true replacement, not Flores. On Feb. 7, 2018, Cruz filed complaints of age discrimination with the president of SBCISD’s board and with the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC); later, she added a complaint for retaliation to her charge with the TWC. Cruz received a right to sue letter from the TWC in October 2018 and filed her lawsuit against SBCISD in November 2019 for age discrimination and retaliation.
In 2018, SBCISD conducted an internal investigation and found that Cruz had not been discriminated against based on her age because she had not suffered an adverse employment action.
The opinion states that Cruz’s case was a circumstantial one, meaning that the plaintiff must establish a prima facie case, the defendant provides evidence of a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for the employment action, and the plaintiff must defend against the rebuttal evidence. According to the memorandum opinion, Cruz’s team successfully established a prima facie case and defended against the rebuttal evidence.
An age discrimination prima face case is established by four criteria: one, was a member of the protected class (40 years or older); two, was qualified for the position at issue; three, suffered a final, adverse employment action; four, was replaced by someone significantly younger or treated less favorably than others who were similarly situated but outside the protected class.
According to the opinion, SBCISD’s legal team argued that Cruz did not have a prima facie case because she was initially replaced by Flores who was less than two years younger than Cruz, and that the school district had legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons for Cruz’s reassignment.
“From this evidence—including testimony that Madrigal and Carman wanted Cornett to be Cruz’s replacement from the very beginning, their awareness of Cruz’s complaint of age discrimination before Flores was appointed, and their delay in demoting Cruz after she filed a discrimination complaint—a person could reasonably infer that Flores was not Cruz’s permanent replacement and that SBISD temporarily appointed Flores to skirt Cruz’s complaints,” reads the memorandum opinion.
The memorandum opinion also states there are inconsistencies with the reasons and actions taken by Madrigal and Carman.
“Madrigal stated that Cruz was removed in part because she did not cooperate well with coworkers, but his evaluation of Cruz performed just before her demotion provided that Cruz’s performance in that area was ‘Satisfactory,’ and Carman never mentioned this as a reason for Cruz’s demotion,” the case file reads.
Want the full story? Click here or grab a copy of the March 19, 2021 – March 25, 2021