The principal had warned Ms. Macias about talking to parents without a teacher present. In fact, there were write-ups of previous incidents. The district did not permit paraprofessionals to “conference” with parents about children. That should be left to the teacher. Apparently this had been an issue with Ms. Macias, who worked for the district for over 20 years before her termination.
So when Ms. Macias casually answered a question from a grandfather, she was fired. Grandpa asked how the boy did (unfortunately, the case gives us zero context for this, so we don’t know what activity Grandpa was asking about). The aide responded: “He was jumping up and down. Just a boy. But if you want further information, you can find the teacher.”
That may strike you as a less than compelling reason to terminate someone’s employment, but it doesn’t take much to justify the termination of a teacher’s aide, even after 20 years with the district. The lawsuit was not about getting the job back—it was about getting unemployment benefits. There, the standard is different, and the burden of proof is more on the employer than employee. The Texas Workforce Commission concluded that the aide was not entitled to benefits because she was discharged for “misconduct.” The court did not agree. The court observed that “misconduct” in this context requires a level of intentional wrongdoing that was just not present here.
This is an obscure case that illustrates an obscure but important point. Districts can lawfully dismiss employees and still get stuck with the tab for unemployment compensation. Proof of “misconduct” is not necessary to terminate the employment of an at-will employee, but it may be needed to fend off the claim for unemployment benefits.
The case of TWC v. Macias was decided by the Court of Appeals for Corpus Christi and Edinburg on May 25, 2017. We found it at 2017 WL 2289028.
DAWG BONE: THINGS ARE DIFFERENT BEFORE THE TEXAS WORKFORCE COMMISSION
Tomorrow: Toolbox Tuesday!!