“…you need to take care of your fish…”

Yesterday the Dawg reported on the 5th Circuit’s decision involving a teacher in Fort Bend ISD who filed claims of discrimination and retaliation.  The court ruled in favor of the district on all claims.  Today, I want to tell you about how the care and feeding of fish figured into the case.

The plaintiff was an aquatic sciences teacher who had 14 or 15 fish tanks in her classroom.  As everyone was getting ready to go home at the end of the fall semester, an associate principal said to the teacher, “Ms. Welsh, you need to take care of your fish.” 

You just never know what stray comments are going to find their way into a published decision from the 5th Circuit. 

Ms. Welsh took umbrage. She felt humiliated at what she perceived as a verbal reprimand that was spoken in front of co-workers. Moreover, she felt she was being made fun of by a younger colleague.  Thus this became part of her lawsuit, alleging discrimination and retaliation by the district. 

The court did not see it that way.  The court noted that our anti-discrimination laws do not “set forth ‘a general civility code for the American workplace.’”  Key Quote:

At best, Welsh’s humiliation as a result of [the associate principal’s] comment is an unpleasant workplace experience, not an adverse employment action. 

The teacher in this case also alleged that the district punished her by changing the curriculum and putting more at-risk and special needs kids in her classroom.   The court’s view on that is insightful.  It made me wonder if the judge is married to a teacher:

…curriculum changes are a reality of being a teacher and Welsh fails to explain how or why being assigned to work with students who are “at risk and special needs” is an adverse employment action.  Indeed, a reasonable administrator may decide to assign only their best teachers to educate students with “special needs.”  Far from being an adverse action, working with “special needs” students may actually reflect well on the teacher assigned to do so.

The case is Welsh v. Fort Bend ISD, decided by the 5th Circuit on October 30, 2019. We found it at 2019 WL 5588992. 


See you next week, Readers!