Rice University’s Student Newspaper — Since 1916

Saturday, September 23, 2023 — Houston, TX

Former employee files to reinstate lawsuit after court dismisses case


By Emily Abdow     1/9/18 11:20pm

The District Court for the Southern District of Texas dismissed a lawsuit filed against Rice University by former employee Cylette Willis-Sass after Sass’s attorney missed a show cause deadline. Willis-Sass filed a motion to reinstate the case on Dec.13.

Willis-Sass filed the initial lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, in August, alleging that Rice University unlawfully terminated her employment after she requested leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

According to the motion to reinstate the case, the plaintiff’s attorney, Ellen Sprovach, went to the emergency room in Houston Methodist Hospital the weekend of Nov. 10 following complications to a knee replacement surgery. As a result, Sprovach missed the Nov. 13 show cause deadline requiring the plaintiff to demonstrate she had served Rice with the lawsuit. The court dismissed the lawsuit on Nov. 14.

According to an email sent by Rice’s attorney, Teresa Valderrama, to Sprovach, the date agreed upon by both parties for Rice University to file an answer was originally Nov. 9. Valderrama requested to file one week later on Nov. 17, to which the plaintiff agreed.

In a Nov. 17 email to Sprovach, Valderrama wrote she had prepared to file Rice University’s answer that day, but then learned the case had been dismissed.

“I am not comfortable filing an answer in a dismissed case,” Valderrama wrote. “Please let me know as soon as it is reinstated, and I will file the answer shortly thereafter.”

In a certificate of conference, Sprovach stated she conferred with Valderrama prior to filing the motion to reinstate and included a directly quoted statement from Valderrama regarding the motion.

“Rice does fully oppose the lawsuit and believes it to be mistaken,” Valderrama wrote in the statement.

Rice University does not comment on personnel matters or pending litigation, according to Rice’s senior director of News and Media Relations B.J. Almond.

More from The Rice Thresher

NEWS 9/19/23 11:00pm
Liftoff for the Biotech Launch Pad

The Rice Biotech Launch Pad accelerator was announced on the 61st anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s moonshot speech. This initiative aims to develop new research and emerging technologies into practical clinical applications by bridging the gap between researchers, medical companies and healthcare professionals, Omid Veiseh said. 

NEWS 9/19/23 10:59pm
Rice celebrates ‘Our Heritage Month’

Rice is celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15 to recognize the achievements of the Hispanic American community, as well as their contributions to the culture in the U.S. and at Rice. This year, the Hispanic Heritage Month planning committee has renamed the event to “Our Heritage Month.” 


Please note All comments are eligible for publication by The Rice Thresher.