The Texas Whistleblower Act: To blow the whistle or not to blow the whistle? That is the question.

rasha-zeyadehDallas Lonestar works for the city of Palestine. Dallas Lonestar discovers that several city officials are misusing city funds. Dallas reports his discovery to the Palestine Police Department (“PPD”). The PPD notifies Palestine city officials of Dallas Lonestar’s report and begins investigating the claim.   A few days later, Dallas Lonestar’s supervisor fires him. The city alleged Dallas Lonestar was fired because of poor performance. Dallas Lonestar was never reprimanded for performance related issues and had no reason to believe his performance was lacking. In fact, shortly before being fired, he was given a glowing performance rating. Hence, Dallas Lonestar believes he was fired because he filed a report with the PPD regarding city officials’ misuse of city funds. Dallas Lonestar is angry, without a job, and wants to sue the city of Palestine. What are his rights?

The Texas Whistleblower Act prohibits a state or local government entity from taking adverse personnel action against an employee “who in good faith reports a violation of law by the employing governmental entity or another public employee to an appropriate law enforcement authority.” The two most important considerations when determining whether a violation of the Texas Whistleblower Act occurred are: (1) whether you acted in “good faith” which means that you believed the conduct you reported was a violation of law and your belief was reasonable; and (2) whether you reported the violation to an appropriate law enforcement agency which is a government entity you believed is authorized to either enforce the laws or investigate or prosecute a violation of criminal law. For instance, an internal report of illegal activity to someone else within the public entity (supervisor/HR) is not typically a report made to an appropriate law enforcement authority. 

In this case, Dallas Lonestar had a good faith belief that city officials were misusing city funds.  He reported the misuse to the PPD, which is a law enforcement agency authorized to investigate criminal violations. Because Dallas Lonestar was terminated within days of making the report and had no performance related issues, he believes his termination is retaliatory. To pursue a claim under the Texas Whistleblower Act, Dallas Lonestar must, within 90 days from the date of his termination, file a grievance if the city of Palestine provides for a grievance procedure. If it does not, he must file a lawsuit within 90 days from the date of his termination. If he fails to exercise his rights within 90 days from the date of his termination, he waives his right to assert a retaliation claim under the Texas Whistleblower Act. 

If Dallas Lonestar is successful in proving he was retaliated against under the Texas Whistleblower Act, he is entitled to damages, including lost wages, injunctive relief, court costs, and attorneys’ fees. In addition, if Dallas Lonestar’s supervisor knowingly terminated Dallas Lonestar in violation of the Texas Whistleblower Act, the supervisor may be personally responsible for a civil penalty up to $15,000, payable to the state treasury. 

If you believe you have been retaliated against in violation of the Texas Whistleblower Act, you should schedule a consultation with a Dallas employment lawyer so we may discuss the specifics of your case and determine whether we can help you pursue your claim.

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