The Fort Worth Court of Appeals ruled that the provisions of the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 extending the charge filing deadlines for certain pay discrimination claims should not be automatically applied to pay discrimination claims arising under state law.
In Tarrant Regional Water District v. Villanueva, Tamara Villanueva brought suit against the the District for gender-based pay discrimination arising from her failure to receive a five percent pay increase she believed she was entitled. After being given only a four percent increase in pay, Villanueva hired an attorney who threatened the District with a gender-based pay lawsuit. Additionally, immediately after being informed that she would not receive the five percent raise she requested, she started forwarding portions of the District’s employment policies from her work e-mail account to her personal e-mail account.
More than 180 days after Villanueva began forwarding copies of the employment policies to her personal e-mail account and her lawyer’s transmission of the demand letter to the District, she filed a charge of discrimination with the Texas Workforce Commission’s Civil Rights’ Division. She admitted in her deposition, which was filed along with the District’s plea to the jurisdiction (similar to a motion to dismiss), that she believed she was being discriminated against on the basis of her gender more than 180 days prior to filing her charge of discrimination. Ordinarily, this would render her claim under state law untimely.
The District challenged the court’s jurisdiction to hear the pay discrimination part of her lawsuit. The trial court denied the District’s plea to the jurisdiction. On appeal, the District argued that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the the pay discrimination claim because Villanueva failed to file her administrative complaint within the required 180-day period after the District committed the unlawful employment practice. Villanueva countered that the passage of the federal Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 should be automatically read into the Texas Labor Code prohibitions against pay discrimination thereby rendering her claim timely.
The Fort Worth Court of Appeals rejected Villanueva’s argument for several reasons. First, the Texas Legislature considered amending the Texas Labor Code during its 2009 session to incorporate the provisions of the Lilly Ledbetter Act. That bill was never passed. Second, when Congress has amended provisions of other federal anti-discrimination laws such as the ADA (amended by the ADA Amendments Act), the Texas Legislature passed similar legislation to adopt or incorporate the changes in federal law. The appeals court summarized the basis for its holding by stating, "while we are guided by analogous federal statutes and the cases interpreting them, we see no reason to write automatic incorporation language into Chapter 21 [the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act] when out legislature has shown that it knows how to amend the chapter when it wants to include specific federal provisions." Consequently, the court of appeals held that Villanueva’s pay-discrimination claim was untimely and should be dismissed.
The Villanueva opinion sets up a split of authority among the Texas courts of appeals. This split may find its way to the Texas Supreme Court for resolution. See Houston Court of Appeals Says Ledbetter Act Applies to Texas State Law Claims. Without attempting to predict how the Supreme Court of Texas will resolve the case, I believe the Fort Worth Court’s analysis is the proper one. Meanwhile, the Texas Legislature starts its session in several weeks. A state law Lilly Ledbetter bill is likely to be reintroduced this Legislative Session.