The University of Texas School of Law has prevailed on appeal in a racial-discrimination lawsuit brought against a former staffer who was fired in 2010.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit affirmed a lower court’s summary judgment against plaintiff Chrystie Nguyen. The unpublished opinion concluded that the Nguyen failed to identify a “similarly-situated employee who was treated more favorably.” She also failed to show that she was discharged from her job because of her race.
Former Texas Law Dean Larry Sager hired Nguyen in 2006 to be his executive assistant, according to the opinion, released on October 7.
By 2008, however, both Sager and Nguyen agreed that she should move into a specially created “special projects coordinator” position within the law school’s continuing legal education department. She continued to be paid from the dean’s office budget. Sager himself abruptly resigned as dean in 2011 after questions surfaced about faculty pay disparities and a $500,000 forgivable loan he received from a law school-affiliated foundation.
Nguyen’s new bosses “quickly began expressing dissatisfaction with Nguyen’s work performance,” according to the opinion, but decided to renew her contract for six months while revoking her privilege to telecommute two days a week. However, the head of the department recommended against renewing her contract a second time, and her employment ended in March 2010.
Nguyen, of Vietnamese descent, sued the law school in 2011, claiming her firing was racially motivated. She cited two emails, the first sent between her two CLE department bosses and noting the email address she provided on her resume included the phrase “shedragon.” The second, to Nguyen from her boss, suggested that she get to know a new hire “of Pan-Asian descent” because of their “similar background.” The new hire was fluent in many languages and had worked in Tokyo and The Hague, it noted.
Finally, Nguyen pointed to a document describing her job duties and noting that “American/Texas business culture” dictates that people look at each other when speaking. That stipulation did not appear in other employees’ job descriptions.
Nguyen also pointed to a birthday party in which one of her bosses did not offer her a piece of cake, but the appeals court did not specifically address this allegation.
None of the three emails or documents demonstrated racial animus toward Nguyen, the court found.
“All three statements cited by Nguyen are too remote in time and too attenuated from Nguyen’s short-term reappointment, which took place a year later, and the decision not to reappoint Nguyen, which took place a year-and-a-half later, to be probative of the question whether racial animus influenced these adverse employment actions,” the court wrote.
The statements constitute “stray remarks, which do not meet the employment discrimination threshold,” the three-judge panel found.
Nguyen’s attorney, Robert Notzon, did not respond to requests for comment.