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Insist whistle-blowers use internal process before suing or calling authorities

by on
in Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

It may not be particularly comfortable for government employees to bring alleged wrongdoing to their supervisor’s attention, but whistle-blowers have to muster the courage to do just that. The law says so.

The Texas Whistleblower Act (TWBA) prohibits a government agency from taking adverse employment action against an employee who, in good faith, reports to an appropriate law enforcement authority a violation of law by the agency or one of the agency’s employees.

But employees who think they have a case can’t just run out and file a lawsuit or a complaint with an agency such as the EEOC, the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division or the local police department.

Instead, employees have to use their agencies’ internal grievance procedures—including those set up to determine whether an employee has been wrongly disciplined or discharged—before suing.

The reason is simple: The state Legislature felt that government entities should have a chance to fix any problems before having to defend themselves in court.

Recent case:
Alta Garrett worked as a teacher from 1991 until 2005, when alleged poor performance led the school board to vote against renewing her contract.

The principal told Garrett about the problems, but Garrett never invoked the school district’s grievance process, although she had done so in the past. Nor did she ask the school board to reconsider her claims that there had been “injustices that have occurred to me and other teachers at the hands of the principal, Verna Ruffin,” and that Ruffin retaliated against those who crossed her.

When she lost her job, Garrett filed an EEOC and Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division complaint, alleging TWBA violations.

The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals rejected her case, saying that the Texas Legislature had been very specific when it drafted the TWBA: It wanted employees and public employers to work things out before resorting to the court system. (Garrett v. Judson Independent School District, No. 07-51258, 5th Cir., 2008)

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