Texas: Employee Legally Terminated After Employer Changed Standards

By SHRM Online staff Jan 23, 2015
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A court granted a company’s motion for summary judgment after it found that company legitimately discharged an employee because he did not meet the company’s heightened employment standards.

Thomas Dade, a black man, was employed by Gra-Gar, LLC, a truckload motor carrier, beginning in January 2007. When Dade applied for employment with Gra-Gar, he completed a job application, which asked him about his prior criminal history. Dade checked the box on his application indicating he had been convicted of or pled guilty to a crime within the last seven years. The following question on the application asked what the crime was, and Dade answered possession of marijuana.

Gra-Gar operated 14 terminals, including one in Dallas. Beginning in November 2007, several criminal incidents involving theft occurred at the Dallas terminal. For example, tractor-trailers were broken into, trucks were hot-wired and tools were stolen. The company suspected that many of the thefts had been committed by its own employees because they had 24 hour access to the terminal. Gra-Gar took numerous steps to end the theft and to make the Dallas terminal a safer and more secure place. In May 2008, the company implemented heightened hiring standards for new hires, which included a criminal background check.

In March 2010, Gra-Gar decided to implement heightened employment standards for existing employees. On June 3, 2010, Gra-Gar held a meeting with its employees and announced a policy that required employees hired prior to May 2008 to submit to a criminal background check. Employees were told they had to pass a criminal background check in order to gain or maintain their job.

According to Gra-Gar, employees with a criminal history would be qualified for continued employment only if, after a case-by-case analysis, the employees criminal background met the company’s more restrictive employment standards. Gra-Garsaid it relied upon the following factors in determining if an employee was eligible for continued employment included: (1) the seriousness and type of criminal conviction; (2) the number of convictions; (3) the amount of time elapsed since conviction and/or release from incarceration; (4) the age of the individual when the crime was committed; and (5) evidence of rehabilitation.

Gra-Garargued that the completed criminal background checks identified 14 employees who were hired prior to May 2008 and had criminal convictions. Seven of the identified employees had convictions that were considered disqualifying convictions, and they were terminated, including Dade. Of the seven terminated employees, five were black, one was Hispanic, and one was white.

Dade filed suit against Gra-Gar, claiming that disparate treatment based on his race, in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA) and 42 U.S.C. Section 1981. Gra-Gar moved for summary judgment on all of Dades claims. The court denied Gra-Gar’s motion, butthe companyfiled a motion for reconsideration of its denial of summary judgment.

Gra-Gar contended that there was no genuine issue of material fact whether it terminated Dade on account of his race, and therefore, his disparate treatment claim must be dismissed. Dade presented a prima facie case of race discrimination, so the burden shifted to Gra-Gar to prove it had a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason for terminating Dade. The company argued that it implemented its heightened employment standards after a series of thefts, and Dade was terminated because he did not meet the heightened employment standards. The court found that the company met its burden of producing a legitimate, non-discriminatory reason that was clear and reasonably specific, to terminate Dade.

Because Dade did not carry his burden to show that Gra-Gar’s reason was a pretext of racial discrimination, he failed to raise a genuine issue of material fact necessary to survive summary judgment on the disparate treatment claims. Thus, the court grantedGra-Gar’s motion for summary judgment..

Dade v. Gra-Gar, LLC, N.D. Texas, No. 3:13-CV-03180-K (Jan. 8, 2015).

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