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Date: 05-15-2023

Case Style:

Roxanne Michele Mathai v. Bexar County, Texas, Javier Salazar

Case Number: 5:22-CV-01355

Judge: Xavier Rodriguez

Court: United States District Court for the Western District of Texas (Bexar County)

Plaintiff's Attorney:

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Defendant's Attorney: Susan A. Bowen

Description: San Antonio, Texas civil rights lawyer represented Plaintiff who sued Defendants on wrongful termination theories.

This case arises out of the employment termination of Plaintiff Roxanne Mathai by Defendant Javier Salazar, the Sheriff of Bexar County. Plaintiff alleges she was wrongfully discharged after she attended President Trump's political rally in Washington, D.C. on January 6, 2021. ECF No. 1 ¶ 14.

At the time of her discharge, Plaintiff had been a Lieutenant with nine years of service as a Texas County Jailer working under the supervision of Defendant Salazar. Id. ¶ 12. She is a self-proclaimed “ardent and passionate supporter of President Donald J. Trump and his ‘Make America Great' (MAGA)

On January 3, 2021, Ms. Mathai sought and received permission from Assistant Chief Deputy Janssen to travel to Washington, D.C. to attend a political rally in support of President Trump. In her complaint, she alleges the following:

Believing she was a witness to history and wanting to create a record for posterity, she began posting photographs, videos, and comments on social media, including her personal Facebook page, in political support of and in association with President Trump. Ms. Mathai also began walking the approximate two-mile distance from Ellipse Park to the United States Capitol Building with her friends and continued to post photos, videos, and comments on Facebook. Ms. Mathai proudly and unapologetically voiced and displayed her lawful and constitutionally protected support of President Trump in person and through social media. She arrived at the outskirts of the United States Capitol Building complex and enjoyed the sights and sounds of the rally. Standing on the street, sidewalk, and on the grassy lawn area outside the United States Capitol Building complex, Ms. Mathai continued to take photos and record videos of her experiences.

Id. ¶ 16. Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Salazar learned of her political speech and association on January 7, 2021 by surveilling and monitoring her personal Facebook page. Thereafter, Salazar commenced an Internal Affairs Investigation into Plaintiff and authorized the issuance of a Notification of Allegations to Plaintiff for violating the following disciplinary rules:

1. 5.24 Conduct Unbecoming an Officer;

2. 5.44 Violations of Law;

3. 5.45 Bringing Discredit;

4. 6.11 Reporting Crimes;

5. 6.12 Reporting Incidents;

6. 6.16 Reporting Non-Compliance; and

7. 37.07 Social Media Scope.

On January 29, 2021, Plaintiff was issued a Garrity Warning and questioned about the allegations against her. A Written Report for Administrative Investigation was prepared and provided to Defendant Salazar.

Defendant Salazar thereafter issued his Order of Dismissal to Plaintiff, dishonorably discharging her from employment on May 28, 2021, for violating statutes, Civil Service Rules, and Commission Rules, engaging in conduct unbecoming of an officer, failing to report crimes, failing to report non-compliance, and violating social media policies.

At the time of her discharge, Plaintiff Mathai was a member of the Deputy Sheriff's Association of Bexar County, a labor union, and was therefore subject to the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the Deputy Sheriff's Association of Bexar, the Sheriff of Bexar County, and the County of Bexar, Texas. In relevant part, the Collective Bargaining Agreement holds that:

A Member may appeal a dismissal or demotion to the Sheriff's Civil Service Commission in accordance with the Rules of the Bexar County Sheriff's Civil Service Commission A Member's appeal of his/her dismissal or demotion may be heard by an Arbitrator as set out below. A Notice of Appeal requesting arbitration by the Member stating the grounds for the appeal and a request by the Association that the Member's appeal be heard by an arbitrator must be filed with the Bexar County Sheriff's Civil Service Commission and the Sheriff's Human Resource Office within ten (10) business days of the Member's receipt of the final Order of dismissal or demotion.

ECF No. 7-1 (Collective Bargaining Agreement Article 19: Discipline / Investigations, Section 6: Appeals).

Plaintiff Mathai, in timely compliance with Article 19, elected to participate in arbitration concerning her termination of employment. ECF No. 1-7 at 142-299 (Arbitration Transcript). The Arbitrator's scope was limited to the following issues: 1) Did Lt. Roxanne Mathai violate the Civil Service Rules? 2) If so, was there just cause to support the disciplinary action imposed upon Lt. Mathai? Id. at 124 (Arbitrator's Decision and Award). The Arbitrator upheld the termination of Plaintiff's employment, issuing a Decision and Award denying Plaintiff's appeal for reinstatement on December 21, 2021.

On March 10, 2022, Plaintiff submitted a Petition to Correct Separation of Licensee Report to the State Office of Administrative Hearings (“SOAH”) to order that Defendant Salazar amend the Separation of Licensee (Form F-5) to reflect an “Honorable Discharge” because she separated employment in good standing. ECF No. 1. ¶ 25. On August 26, 2022, an administrative law judge issued a Decision and Order, holding that “[Salazar] did not establish misconduct occurred which would support a dishonorable discharge.... Therefore, Petitioner's F-5 Report should be changed to reflect a general discharge.”

Plaintiff brings claims against Defendants Salazar and Bexar County for violations of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, as well as violations of the Fourteenth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for retaliatory discharge because of free speech and association and violations of her liberty interest in employment. Id. at 11-16. More specifically, she contends that Defendant Salazar “issued a false and unsubstantiated Order of Dismissal to [Plaintiff] terminating her on manufactured and false violations” of various Bexar County Sheriff's Civil Service Commission rules.

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on February 17, 2023. ECF No. 9. Plaintiff responded on March 17, 2023. ECF No. 10. At the hearing held on May 4, 2023, the Court directed both parties to file supplemental briefing on the issue of the Court's jurisdiction in light of the arbitration provision in the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

Outcome: Motion to dismiss denied.

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