Court of Appeals of Texas, Houston (1st Dist.).
Mary Ann BARRON, Appellant
LEGION INSURANCE COMPANY, Appellee
July 2, 1998.
On Appeal from the 334th District Court Harris County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 96-44340
Panel consists of Justices SMITH.3
*1 This is a workers’ compensation case. Appellant, Mary Ann Barron, appeals a summary judgment rendered in favor of appellee, Legion Insurance Company (Legion). We address whether Legion’s summary judgment evidence was sufficient to prove, as a matter of law, that Barron’s injury did not arise from an event traceable to a definite time, place, and cause. We affirm.
Barron began working at Hermann Hospital as a maintenance electrician in September 1992. Barron was subjected to harassment by male co-workers and supervisors between June and December 1993. The harassment included, among other things, propositions of sex for money, dirty jokes, lewd gestures, accusations by male electricians that she was not able or qualified to do her work, meetings between male employees at which further harassment against her was planned, obstruction of her work, and theft of items from her locker. This conduct by Barron’s male co-workers ceased at the end of 1993 when her supervisor, Terry Church, took disciplinary action against those individuals.
On July 20, 1994, Church informed Barron that Church was being terminated from his position as Barron’s supervisor. Church told Barron that “the men [her male co-workers] are coming after you.” Barron took this as a warning of impending physical violence from her male co-workers. Her new supervisor then reassigned her to the night shift. By July 22, 1994, Barron began experiencing anxiety, loss of concentration, and fear, which caused her to write to the personnel department at Hermann seeking protection from her male co-workers. Barron’s co-workers continued to harass her, and she eventually sought treatment from a psychiatrist who placed her on anti-depressant medication. Barron resigned from her position at Hermann on October 27, 1994, because she could no longer function in her job.
Barron filed a workers’ compensation claim alleging that she suffered mental injury when Church told her that her male co-workers were “coming after her.” The Texas Workers’ Compensation Commission (TWCC) held a hearing on May 14, 1996, and the hearing officer concluded that Barron had not sustained a compensable mental trauma injury. A TWCC appeals panel later upheld the hearing examiner’s decision. Barron filed the current suit in district court on August 30, 1996. On August 29, 1997, Legion filed a motion for summary judgment alleging that Barron’s mental trauma injury, if any, was not compensable because it was based on ongoing repetitive harassment covering a period of time between 1993 and 1994, and was not based on an event traceable to a definite time, place, and cause. In response, Barron filed a document entitled “opposition to summary judgment,” which provided a factual narration of the case supported by many documents. However, that document did not contain legal arguments supported by authority nor did it rely upon proper summary judgment evidence. The trial court granted Legion’s motion for summary judgment.
Standard of Review
*2 A defendant, as the movant, is entitled to prevail on a motion for summary judgment if the defendant can establish with competent summary judgment proof that, as a matter of law, there is no genuine issue of fact as to one or more of the essential elements of the plaintiff’s cause of action. Nixon v. Mr. Property Management Co., 690 S.W.2d 546, 548-49 (Tex.1985).
Definite Trauma Source
In her sole point of error, Barron contends that the trial court erred in rendering summary judgment because the findings of the TWCC hearing officer upon which the trial court relied did not include factual information crucial to her case. Later in her brief, Barron cites to the Workers’ Compensation Act and alleges that she did suffer a mental trauma injury. We will construe her brief as attacking the legal sufficiency of Legion’s summary judgment proof.
Under the Workers’ Compensation Act as amended in 1989, an insurance carrier is liable for injuries to employees which arise out of, and in the course and scope of, their employment. TEX. LAB.CODE ANN. § 401.011(26), (34) (Vernon 1996).
*3 Mental trauma can produce an accidental injury if there is proof of a definite time, place, and cause. Shannon, 889 S.W.2d at 664.1
In this case, Barron claims she suffered a mental injury for which she can receive workers’ compensation benefits. In her pleadings, Barron attempted to identify July 20, 1994, the date her supervisor was terminated, as the definite time, place, and event causing her to suffer mental trauma. In its motion for summary judgment, Legion attempted to prove as a matter of law that Barron’s mental trauma, if any, was based on ongoing repetitive harassment over a period of time, and not upon a particular time, place, or cause. In support of its motion, Legion attached the following evidence: (1) excerpts from Barron’s deposition; (2) several handwritten letters which were attached as exhibits to Barron’s deposition and which Barron authenticated during her testimony; (3) excerpts from Barron’s answers to interrogatories; and (4) copies of Barron’s pleadings from an earlier discrimination and retaliation suit filed against Hermann. In pertinent part, Legion’s summary judgment evidence provided as follows:
1. Barron’s Deposition Excerpts
Q: Is it your testimony that basically in almost every job you have held you have experienced some form of harassment?
A: I consider that to be part of the job.
Q: What do you mean by that?
A: Well, it was so ordinary an event to be harassed that realistically, unless I was assigned to a project all by myself, I would expect for just about anything to happen at any time over the years.
Q: It is due to the particular job that you have, being an electrician?
A: Well, it was a female working in all male environment. The things that they considered normal behavior is what could be considered by definition harassment.
*4 Q: So your testimony is that Hermann Hospital is not the first time by a long stretch that you had experienced harassment on the job?
A: That’s correct.
Q: What the basis of your claim is, is that on July 20, 1994 Mr. Church resigned and told you that the men are going to be coming after you?
A: That was-the basis of my claim-that’s the day that I was traumatized, but the traumatizing doesn’t make any sense unless you know about the harassment.
Q: I understand, but it was-based on what had happened to you from August through December 1993, Mr. Church telling you on July 20, 1994 that he was resigning and that the men would come after you is the basis of your worker’s compensation claim; is that an accurate statement?
A: Well you would have to realize that he started-this started up when the new CEO came. That’s when Mr. Church first started telling me and my supervisor and other people around me that if he resigned or if he was fired that my life would be in danger.
Q: What was it that led you to conclude from his statement, “the men are coming after,” that you were physically at risk from co-workers?
A: Well, all the things that had happened.
A: Back in-up until December.
Q: Of 1993, correct?
A: Including when he finally interviewed and let these people-gave them time off.2
2. Barron’s Letter of October 27, 1994
In her resignation letter from Hermann Hospital, Barron wrote:
I cannot physically or emotionally return to a position as an electrician because of numerous wrongs done to me in the past year.
3. Barron’s Letter of December 3, 1994
This letter, addressed “to whom it may concern,” stated:
Over the years I have taken substantial abuse from hundreds of men. You name it, I’ve been called it. I’ve been physically assaulted, I’ve stood by while groups of men told me how stupid I am, I could go on and on.
4. Barron’s Letter of July 22, 1994
Two days after her alleged discussion with Church, Barron wrote a letter to the Hermann Hospital human resources department. That letter provided, in pertinent part:
I, Mary Ann Barron, would like to have entered into record that I have been sexually harassed by my co-workers, and supervision [sic] on several occasions for the last year of my employment ... I had been warned by Hector Vela and Jim Tomlinson that the men were in constant conversation as to how to cause me to loose [sic] my job. They told me to be on guard ... Hector Vela told me on several occasions that Patrick [a male co-worker] said I was not qualified to be an electrician and that I should not hold my position. Hector told me to watch out for both Wiley [another male co-worker] and Patrick, that these men might hurt me ... I’ve been told repeatedly by Terry Church and Jim Tomlinson that Ralph Finnegan [another male co-worker] is out to harm me.
5. Barron’s Answers to Interrogatories
*5 Q: Is your claim that you suffered repetitive occupational stress extending over a period of time?
A: My claim was that I was harassed over an extended period of time. Traumatized on July 20, 1994 by Mr. Terry Church.
6. Petition from Prior Lawsuit
In 1995, Barron filed a discrimination suit against Hermann in federal district court. In her complaint, Barron made the following allegations:
During her employment with Defendant, Plaintiff was subjected to continual harassment and intimidation by other of Defendant’s employees, all of whom were male. Plaintiff reported the harassment to her supervisors a number of times, however, the harassment continued.
In or about August, 1994, after Plaintiff complained about the harassment she was suffering, Plaintiff was transferred to a less desirable shift. Eventually, the harassment became so severe that Plaintiff was forced to resign her position of employment.
Legion argues that its summary judgment evidence shows, as a matter of law, that Barron’s claim of mental trauma is based upon alleged repetitive incidents of harassment, rather than a discrete event. See Shannon, 889 S.W.2d at 664. We agree. In her deposition testimony, handwritten letters, and answers to interrogatories, Barron stated that (1) she was repeatedly harassed by her co-workers before and after July 20, 1994, (2) the “trauma” she experienced on that date was based upon earlier harassment, (3) she left her employment with Hermann due to “numerous” wrongs done to her, and (4) she was told on several occasions prior to July 20, 1994 that her co-workers were plotting against her. The complaint from her earlier discrimination suit alleged she was subjected to continual harassment while employed at Hermann, and that the harassment is what caused her to resign her position. It is clear that Barron’s alleged mental injury arose from a pattern of harassment over a period of time and not from the single discussion with Church on July 20, 1994. We hold that Legion’s summary judgment evidence was sufficient to prove, as a matter of law, that Barron’s alleged mental trauma injury did not arise from a definite time, place, and cause. See id.
Because Legion’s motion and supporting evidence established its right to judgment as a matter of law, the burden shifted to Barron to raise a fact issue concerning the “time, place, and cause” requirement of her cause of action. See Wheeler, 866 S.W.2d at 36. Barron did file a document entitled “opposition to summary judgment,” consisting of a narrative statement of her position to which she attached numerous documents and records. However, Barron did not advance any legal arguments in this document nor did she attach any valid summary judgment evidence. Because Barron failed to raise a fact issue concerning whether her alleged injury arose from an event traceable to a definite time, place, and cause, we must uphold the summary judgment granted in favor of Legion.
*6 We overrule Barron’s sole point of error.
We affirm the judgment of the trial court.
The cases cited above all interpreted the Act as it existed prior to the 1989 amendments. However, neither the 1989 amendments nor the 1993 codification of the Labor Code made any substantive statutory changes to the definitions of “injury” or “occupational disease” which would alter the requirement that, before an injured employee can recover for a mental trauma injury, proof of a definite time, place, and cause must be presented.
In her deposition, Barron also testified the harassment she suffered was part of a broad conspiracy including the state and federal government, Hermann Hospital, Houston Lighting and Power, and several insurance companies and law firms.
The Honorable Jackson B. Smith, Jr., retired Justice, Court of Appeals, First District of Texas at Houston, participating by assignment.