Why the custodian with autism lost his job….

Northeast ISD hired Scottie Goodlett as a custodian in August, 2014.  The district fired him in 2018.  Mr. Goodlett alleged that this was a case of disability discrimination.  Mr. Goodlett had autism, which the district was well aware of. His lawsuit alleges that his autism “impairs his ability to navigate social situations; he has the mental age of a 10-12 year old and reads at the fifth to sixth grade level; and he relies on his parents to deal with social situations.”

It was a “social situation” that led to the termination.  On January 22, 2018 when Mr. Goodlett and three other custodians took their lunch break, someone suggested that they race to the car.  Off they went.  In the excitement of the moment, Mr. Goodlett pushed Ms. Castillo from behind and she fell to the ground, injuring her left hand and ripping her pants.  Uh oh.   Surveillance video captured the incident. 

The foursome went to lunch, but upon their return, Ms. Castillo filed a workers comp claim and made a report to NEISD police.  Investigations ensued, which resulted in consistent reports from all of the custodians. Everyone agreed: Scottie pushed Maria and she fell.  Mr. Goodlett admitted it, while also stating that he did not intend to hurt her.

There was more.  Two of the custodians reported that Mr. Goodlett had previously threatened to hit them. 

The investigation quickly moved up the chain of command to the Executive Director of Athletics, who wrote a memo explaining her reason for terminating Mr. Goodlett’s employment:

The decision to terminate Plaintiff’s employment weighed heavily on me because I had seen firsthand the progress that Plaintiff had made while working at NEISD.  Ultimately, I determined that NEISD could neither excuse nor tolerate Plaintiff’s misconduct, and that he must be treated in the same manner as any other employee, irrespective of his disability.

Was he treated the same? That was the critical issue in the litigation.  Mr. Goodlett had to convince the court of four things.  He succeeded on the first three:

1. He is a member of a “protected class,” that being that he is a person with a disability;

2. He was qualified for the job he held, as evidenced by his  successful employment for over three years;

3. He was subjected to an “adverse action.” He was fired.

The fourth factor was the sticking point:

4. He was treated less favorably than other similarly situated employees who were not members of the protected class under nearly identical circumstances.

Mr. Goodlett argued that all four custodians were engaged in “horseplay” but he was the only one who got fired. The court did not see it that way:

However, the other three coworkers were not “similarly situated under nearly identical circumstances” because none of them pushed a coworker and none of them made prior threats of violence against a coworker.

This one is Goodlett v. Northeast ISD, decided by the Court of Appeals in San Antonio on May 26, 2021.  We found it at 2021 WL 2117927. 


Got a question or comment for the Dawg?  Let me hear from you at jwalsh@wabsa.com

Tomorrow: Let’s think about transition plans….