Texas State Senator Jose Rodriguez (El Paso-D) recently filed S.B. 121, which if passed, would amend Chapter 554 of the Texas Government Code, also known as the Texas Whistleblower’s Act. As many in El Paso are aware, the disgraced former superintendent of the El Paso Independent School District, and several unnamed co-conspirators within the district, were engaged in unlawful and/or unethical activities and directives. This disgraced former superintendent has since pled guilty to federal charges. As I addressed in my August 6, 2012 blog entry, “EPISD Fiasco Linked to Weak Employment Laws,” many of the district employees who could have exposed this illegal conduct early on, were placed in difficult positions of either committing wrongful acts or face retaliation with little or no legal recourse available.
Two significant hurdles facing workers seeking whistleblower protections are addressed in Sen. Rodriguez’s bill. Under the current whistleblower law, a worker must report unlawful activity to a law enforcement authority to be protected. This is a peculiar requirement that often dooms many potential cases. SB 121 expands whistleblower coverage to employees who make complaints of unlawful activity to a supervisor, administrator or human resources staff member. This makes sense, since most workers are trained to report wrongdoings and policy violations through their chain of command or the human resources department, rather than to law enforcement.
Second, SB 121 eliminates the requirement that an employee first file an internal grievance before filing suit. Often times, workers are not told of their grievance rights at the time of their termination, and are unaware of the necessary steps or timelines involved in the process. The option of filing a grievance is still available for workers, but one will not be barred from filing suit if they fail to first take this step.
Unfortunately, the SB 121 does not attempt to alter the extraordinarily short 90 day time deadline for filing suit. This is the shortest statute of limitations for any employment law claim in Texas, which only serves to protect governmental employers that engage in illegal behavior in the workplace.
That being said, this is a significant bill that is long overdue. Thank you Sen. Rodriguez for proposing legislation that, if passed, will help protect our public workers, and allow them to expose the unlawful and unethical activities in state and local governments.
“The reality is that we do not wash our own laundry – it just gets dirtier.”
– Al Pacino, “Serpico”