Kalandra Wheeler
Texas Employment Lawyer Kalandra Wheeler

Her story: “I work at a small convenient store outside of town.  I don’t know what to do.  I can’t quit my job; it took me forever to find a job that works with my schedule.  I am a single mother, and I have to take care of my child and I’m trying to finish school.  I need this job, but ever since I started working, the owner has been making inappropriate sexual comments and gestures.  It makes me uncomfortable and I’ve asked him to stop, but he won’t.  Every day it seems to be getting worse.  How do I stop him from doing this to me? I can’t take this.  It isn’t fair.  I just want to go to work and do my job and go home.”

The protections afforded under most of the anti-discrimination laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Family and Medical Leave Act only apply if the employer in question has the requisite number of employees. For example, for employees to have protections under Title VII or the ADA, an employer must employ 15 people.  For claims under the ADEA, there must be 20 employees.  For an employee to be able to pursue claims under the FMLA, an employer must have 50 employees within a 75-mile radius of the location where the employee worked.  The same is true for the counterparts of these laws found in the Texas Labor Code. Thus, whenever an attorney hears “small convenient store” or any other indication of a small employer, the typical follow up inquiry is figuring out how many employees are employed by the employer. 

The requirement that these minimum thresholds be met before an employer can be held liable for illegal conduct leaves many employees powerless.  For the most part, Texas specific laws are still modeled after federal laws. However, when it comes to sexual harassment in the workplace, which falls under Title VII protections as they relate to sex, the Texas Labor Code no longer looks like federal law.

Until recently, the woman making the above complaint may have been left with no options for seeking legal recourse for the sexual harassment she experiences.  Thankfully, this will no longer be the case in Texas. Texas has now taken a bold step to protect employees from sexual harassment.  

Employers in Texas will no longer be able to hide behind the defense of, “I only have 10 employees” for claims involving sexual harassment.

When it comes to sexual harassment in Texas, on September 1, 2021, under the Texas Labor Code, all employees will be protected from sexual harassment.  For the purposes of sexual harassment claims, “employer” will now be defined as “a person who employs one or more employees.”  But wait, that’s not the only change in the law as it relates to the definition of employer.  Supervisor, managers, and human resources personnel beware.  When reports of sexual harassment are made, the named Defendant may include you.  The definition of “employer” also includes “a person who acts directly in the interests of an employer in relation to an employee.” Indeed, after September 1, 2021, supervisors, managers, human resources personnel, and other third parties acting directly in the interest of the employer may find themselves being held personally liable for damages.

Aside from expanding the definition of employer, the timeline for filing complaints of sexual harassment under Texas law will be expanded from 180 days to 300 days, which will put it in line with similar types of claims pursued under federal law.  

Lastly, Texas law seems to be changing what is required of employers in the way of responding to complaints of sexual harassment.  In the past, employers have been required to take “prompt remedial action.”  The new law will require employer’s take “immediate and appropriate corrective action.” Courts will still need to interpret this standard. Yet, the departure from the old requirement, indicates that Texas lawmakers are intending to take a stronger stand against sexual harassment and are requiring employers to take real action in response to these very serious complaints.

These changes stand for a much-welcomed change that is needed in the legal landscape of Texas.  Often times, these legal loopholes leave many of the most vulnerable employees without any protections. If you are experiencing sexual harassment at work and would like to know your rights, don’t hesitate to contact an experienced employment lawyer.  Contact our office, we are available to discuss your circumstances and a plan of action.    

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Photo of Kalandra N. Wheeler Kalandra N. Wheeler

We asked Kalandra N. Wheeler, a Trial Attorney in the Houston office of Wiley Wheeler, P.C., to provide her sincere answers to a range of questions.  After reading, you will be more more abreast with the understanding and competency that Ms. Wheeler

We asked Kalandra N. Wheeler, a Trial Attorney in the Houston office of Wiley Wheeler, P.C., to provide her sincere answers to a range of questions.  After reading, you will be more more abreast with the understanding and competency that Ms. Wheeler brings.

1.Why did you start practicing labor and employment law?

I wanted to be able to help people that otherwise might not find help. Labor and employment laws affect most of society.  And – whether our results help one or many – our work and efforts as employment lawyers touch people in a real way in their every day lives.

2. Who is your favorite Supreme Court Justice?

Thurgood Marshall.

3. What do you think is the most important part of a good case?

The client. Good facts and evidence are definitely important. But good clients are a lawyers’ most valuable asset.  A good client: (1) is invested in their case; (2) works or worked hard for their employer; (3) can tell their story clearly and concisely; and (4) is someone that a jury will find sympathetic and relatable.

4. If you could write a new law, what would it do?

The Texas Workplace Anti-Bullying law.  I hear the stories, the ones told by employees looking for help. And in far too many of those stories the law offers no solution.  Every employee that goes to work and works hard to do the job they are hired to perform should be able to do so without abuse, harassment, and bullying. There is no justification for bullying, not in our schools, and not in our workplaces.

5. Besides Rob Wiley, P.C., what is the most interesting job that you have had?

For a year before law school, I worked as a lube tech for Jiffy Lube.  I spent hot summer days, working on hot cars, changing oil or flushing transmissions or radiators.  I never had a customer come back with a complaint.

6. How do you market yourself differently than others?

I tell clients what they need to hear, not necessarily what they want to hear. Before a client begins down any path toward resolving an employment dispute, they need thoughtful, honest advice. I am a believer in justice and everyday people deserve competent representation in an arena that is difficult for non-lawyers to navigate.

7. What do you do when you’re not practicing law?

I spend time with family and friends.  I read true crime books.  I sew and draw.

8. How would you describe the color yellow to someone who could not see?

It’s not the intense heat of the sun during the month of August, but instead the softness of the sun on your skin just as the seasons change from Summer to Fall.  It’s warm. And soft to the touch.  It’s fresh squeezed lemonade with a hint of sugar.  Slightly cool, inviting, and happy.

9. What’s your favorite legal TV show?

Law & Order: SVU

10. If you could argue any case in history, what would it be?

The Karen Silkwood case. But really, I think that would be more about arguing and trying a case alongside Gerry Spence for the learning experience.

Kalandra N. Wheeler is a Trial Attorney in the Houston office of Wiley Wheeler, P.C.  She graduated from The University of Houston with a bachelor’s degree in political science.  Ms. Wheeler went on and received her law degree from The University of Arkansas.