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Internal report of wrongdoing not enough to trigger whistle-blower protection

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in Discrimination and Harassment,Human Resources

Texas public employees are protected from retaliation for reporting wrongdoing to an appropriate law enforcement agency. But except in very rare cases, it’s not enough to file an internal complaint that someone within the employee’s agency is breaking the law.

Recent case: Christina was a parole supervision officer with the Hunt County Community Supervision and Corrections Department. When she discovered what she believed were illegal and unethical practices within the department, she reported her suspicions internally to a judge within her organization.

She had discovered that individuals on probation or parole who had been ordered to perform community service at nonprofits were instead just making cash donations. The nonprofits then reported the hours worked, thus letting individuals fulfill their obligations with a payment rather than labor. Christina described how some nonprofits even engaged in bidding wars, lowering the price they would accept in exchange for certification that the probationer or parolee had performed required community service.

The judge, in turn, contacted the district attorney about the practice.

Soon Christina was terminated. She sued, alleging retaliation for whistle-blowing activities.

She lost the case. The court concluded that by going to the judge rather than the district attorney’s office or some other law enforcement entity with the power to prosecute the alleged illegal activity, Christina had not blown the whistle. (Hunt County v. Gaston, No. 03-13-00189, Texas Court of Appeals, 2014)

Final note: Word is no doubt getting around that employees need to go to the police or district attorney with their allegations to win protection.

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