The nude selfie case: it ain’t over till it’s over…..

The case of the principal who was fired after her nude selfie was unlawfully disseminated by an unknown third party continues to do judicial somersaults.  I suppose that any lead sentence that includes “nude” “selfie” and “principal” calls for a bit of background. So for those new to the Daily Dawg, let me recap the facts. 

Ms. Esparza, a principal in Edinburg CISD, took the picture and sent it to her husband, toiling away hundreds of miles away in the oil field of West Texas. She sent it to her husband and only to her husband. I expect the husband was pleased with his wife’s thoughtful and flirtatious gift. But someone—still unknown—got access to the picture and sent it out far and wide. With predictable results.  The board wondered if Ms. Esparza could remain effective as a school principal, and  proposed termination of her employment. She asked for a hearing from an independent hearing examiner, and thus began the somersaults.  Here’s the scorecard so far:

Hearing Examiner:  Recommended that she not be fired.

The Board: Disagreed with that recommendation and fired her.

Commissioner: Agreed with the board.  She’s fired.

District Court: Nope.  Disagreed with the Commissioner. She’s not fired.

Court of Appeals:  Disagreed with the District Court. She’s fired.

I thought that would be the end of it, and duly reported it in Daily Dawg March 5, 2021.  But it’s not over. It turns out that Ms. Esparza initiated a separate legal action alleging gender discrimination.  This went first to the Texas Workforce Commission, which offers “the exclusive state statutory remedy for work-related discrimination and retaliation claims.”   TWC issued a “right to sue” letter, and Ms. Esparza sued.   

ECISD responded to the gender discrimination suit with a Plea to the Jurisdiction based on the legal doctrine of “collateral estoppel.”  This is a term that you should try to work into your everyday vocabulary. It’s challenging, but once you understand the concept, opportunities are sure to arise.  “Collateral estoppel” prevents a party from “relitigating an issue it previously litigated and lost.” ECISD pointed to the Court of Appeals decision in which the court concluded that the district had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for firing Ms. Esparza.  In other words—this issue has already been decided. She shouldn’t be allowed to bring it up again. 

Nope. The district court denied the Plea to the Jurisdiction and the Court of Appeals affirmed that decision. The case was not dismissed. It ain’t over. 

Keep in mind that this Court of Appeals is the same court that earlier held that the district had presented good cause to terminate the principal’s employment. So why would they allow her to now bring up gender discrimination claims?

The court held that its earlier decision judicially established that the district had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason to terminate Ms. Esparza’s contract. She could not re-litigate that issue. But the court went on to hold that Ms. Esparza could still pursue a claim that gender discrimination was “also a motivating factor” for her termination. The court noted that this “mixed-motive claim of discrimination” was not brought up in the earlier case, and the Commissioner  had “made no findings that we could consider as having a preclusive effect in that regard.” Bottom line: “whether the District was motivated by discrimination was not a fact fully and fairly litigated in the Commissioner proceedings.”

So it’s not over. In this suit, Ms. Esparza alleges that she was replaced by a male, and that there were five “similarly situated male employees” who were not terminated based on their misconduct.  As the case proceeds, she will have to tell us more about those five, what they did, and why it makes them “similarly situated.” I doubt that all five sent nude selfies to their spouses, but this case will test how “similar” situations have to be to pass the legal test.

Stay tuned, Loyal Daily Dawg Readers!   This latest iteration is Edinburg CISD v. Esparza, decided by the Court of Appeals for Corpus Christi-Edinburg on December 1, 2022. 


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