Women and Justice: Court: Supreme Court of Texas

Domestic Case Law

Operation Rescue-National v. Planned Parenthood of Houston and Southeast Texas Supreme Court of Texas (1998)

Abortion and reproductive health rights

Doctors and clinics sued anti-abortion activist group Operation Rescue for invasion of privacy, tortious interference, and civil conspiracy. Anti-abortion activists planned to picket and obstruct abortion clinics and homes of physicians who worked for the clinics to coincide with the 1992 Republican National Convention. The district court granted a permanent injunction to restrict anti-abortion demonstrations, which prohibited activists from, among other things, demonstrating within specified areas of each clinic. Operation Rescue appealed. Pursuant to free speech principles, the Court held that the injunction must burden no more speech than necessary to serve a significant government interest. The Court upheld the injunction as it related to physicians’ homes, but found the injunction overbroad because it limited peaceful communication within speech-free zones, such as peaceful sidewalk counseling and prayer. The Court modified the injunction, allowing no more than two demonstrators within a zone. These two demonstrators may individually sidewalk counsel patients in a normal speaking voice, but must retreat when the patient or physician verbally indicates that they wish to be alone. Otherwise, the lower court’s judgment was affirmed.

In re: Jane Doe Supreme Court of Texas (2000)

Abortion and reproductive health rights

A pregnant minor applied for judicial bypass to have an abortion without notifying her parents. The trial court denied her application, finding that she was neither mature nor well-informed enough to consent to an abortion without parental notification. The Supreme Court reversed, finding that Doe showed that she was sufficiently well-informed. The trial court specifically denied Doe’s application because she was allegedly unaware of the intrinsic benefits of alternatives to abortion such as parenting and adoption. The Supreme Court held that even though a minor may not share the court’s views about what the benefits of her alternatives might be, it does not follow that she has not thoughtfully considered her options or acquired sufficient information about them. The Court noted that she had read about abortion, spoken to women who have had abortions, and discussed potential mental effects with a counselor. Moreover, she expressed that she was not ready for parenthood and that keeping the child would prevent her from going to college or having a career. The Supreme Court thus reversed the trial court and granted Doe’s judicial bypass, holding that when a minor has established that she has engaged in a rational and informed decision-making process and concluded that realistic concerns foreclose her alternatives, she cannot be denied the statutory bypass for failing to list general benefits seen by others.

In re Doe Supreme Court of Texas (2002)

Abortion and reproductive health rights

Pregnant minor filed an application for judicial bypass to receive an abortion without notifying her parents. The district court did not rule on the application or make findings of fact, but issued a writing that sua sponte concluded that the parental bypass law was unconstitutional. Doe appealed due to uncertainty about the judgment, and the court of appeals dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The Supreme Court held that because the judge did not issue findings of fact within two business days, her application was deemed granted.

In re: Jane Doe 10 Supreme Court of Texas (2002)

Abortion and reproductive health rights

A pregnant minor applied for judicial bypass to have an abortion without notifying her parents. The trial court denied the application on a form, but made no ruling and no findings of fact on one of the bases for judicial bypass—whether notifying her parents would lead to physical, sexual, or emotional abuse of the minor. Under the Texas Family Code, the court was required to issue a ruling and written findings of fact and conclusions of law within two business days after the application was filed. Doe argued that because the trial court did not comply with the Family Code, she was denied a timely and complete judgment, and her application should be deemed granted. The Supreme Court agreed, deeming her application for judicial bypass granted based on possible abuse.

Bell v. Low Income Women of Texas Supreme Court of Texas (2002)

Abortion and reproductive health rights, Gender discrimination

Physicians and clinics sued the Commissioner of Health sued, claiming that Texas Medical Assistance Program’s (“TMAP”) abortion funding restrictions for indigent women violated their constitutional rights under the Equal Rights Amendment and Equal Protection Clause of the Texas Constitution, and their rights to privacy. TMAP was prohibited from authorizing abortion services without matching federal funds. The relevant federal law, the Hyde Amendment, prevented TMAP from funding abortions unless the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, or placed the woman in danger of death. The plaintiffs argued that the restriction constituted sex discrimination because the state funded virtually all medically necessary services for men while refusing to fund abortions that are medically necessary even though the woman is not at risk of death. The Supreme Court held that although any restriction related to abortion would only affect women, TMAP’s restriction was not “on the basis of sex,” but rather due to the nature of abortion as a medical procedure involving potential life, which has no similar treatment method. The Court noted that other than medically necessary abortions, TMAP funded virtually all other medical treatment for women, and funded abortions to the extent that matching federal funds were available. The Court held that the discouragement of abortion through funding restrictions cannot, by itself, be considered purposeful discrimination against women as a class. The Court recognized the state’s interest in encouraging childbirth over abortion and held that the right to choose an abortion does not translate into a state obligation to subsidize abortions. The Court thus held that the funding restrictions did not violate the Texas Constitution, reversing the Court of Appeals and entering judgment for the defendant.

Hoffman-La Roche Inc. v. Zeltwanger Supreme Court of Texas (2004)

Employment discrimination, Sexual harassment

The plaintiff-respondent worked as a sales representative for Hoffman-La Roche Inc, the defendant-petitioner. The respondent alleged that her supervisor told sexually inappropriate jokes and asked inappropriate questions on multiple occasions. She submitted complaints to Human Resources, which began an investigation. During the respondent’s performance review, her supervisor yelled at her and repeatedly criticized her performance, giving her a below average rating. Shortly afterwards, the petitioner fired both the respondent’s supervisor and the respondent. The respondent then filed a complaint for sexual harassment with the Texas Commission on Human Rights. At issue for the Supreme Court was whether the respondent could recover damages for emotional distress due to sexual harassment under the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act and common tort law. The Court of Appeals held that the respondent could recover under both statutory and common law, awarding damages. The Texas Supreme Court reversed, holding that when the complaint is for sexual harassment, the plaintiff must proceed solely under a statutory claim unless there are additional facts, unrelated to sexual harassment, to support an independent tort claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Court found that the respondent could not identify additional extreme and outrageous conduct by the petitioner to support an independent intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. The Court reversed the judgment of the court of appeals and remanded to the trial court.

San Antonio Water System v. Nicholas Supreme Court of Texas (2015)

Employment discrimination, Sexual harassment

The petitioner claimed that she was terminated from her position because she confronted a male vice president about his repeated lunch invitations to two female employees outside his department. The Texas Supreme court held that no reasonable person could have believed the invitations gave rise to an actionable sexual harassment claim. Accordingly, the Court held the petitioner did not engage in a protected activity under the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act when she confronted the vice president about his behavior. The Court reversed the lower court and dismissed the claim.