On August 29, 2022, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a jury verdict for two former Denton Municipal Electric (DME) employees. Michael Grim and Jim Maynard sued the DME after they were placed on administrative leave for reporting that council member Keely Briggs leaked of confidential information regarding the proposed Denton Energy Center to the Denton Record-Chronicle. The newspaper then published the information online. The day after they filed their lawsuit, they were fired.
Grim and Maynard, through their Kilgore & Kilgore attorneys, Robert Goodman and Eric Roberson, argued that their firing was unlawful under the Texas Whistleblower Act (TWA). The TWA protects public employees from retaliation when they make good faith reports of violations of law by their employer to an appropriate law enforcement authority.
Do You Suspect Your Own Employer of Retaliation or Other Unlawful Action?
Perhaps your employer is engaged in illegal activity. This is a sensitive and uncomfortable situation. To be frank, it can cost you your job if you report it. On the other hand, if you have played an unwitting part in their activities, you may be legally exposed. Do not wait until something happens. Several different laws protect whistleblowers and employees who experienced retaliation, such as wrongful termination. Contact Kilgore Law for a confidential discussion. Click this link to get the conversation started Contact Kilgore Law. For more information about our whistleblower law practice, click this link. To learn about Kilgore Law’s employment retaliation law practice, click this Employment Retaliation.
Whatever you decide to do, reach out to a lawyer before you file a complaint.
This Case Involved Complicated Facts
The facts in this case, Grim v. DME, are complicated. This is the situation in almost all whistleblower and retaliation cases. Michael Grim was the executive manager for power legislation and regulatory affairs at DME. Jim Maynard worked as an energy project development manager for DME. They became concerned when Denton City Council Member Keely Briggs leaked confidential information about a controversial $265 million gas-fired power plant contract, which was approved by the Denton City Council in September 2016. It was leaked to the local newspaper, which published the details.
City of Denton Irregularities Multiplied
Allegations were already in the air about possible irregularities in DTE’s contracting process. Grim and Maynard reported the leak to then-city attorney Anita Burgess, who took no action against Briggs, the council member who leaked the information. Subsequently, the opponents of the power plant contract obtained political control of the city council. Grim and Maynard were called into a series of closed meetings with their employer, DME. They characterized the meetings as interrogations. Both had asked that the meetings be open in accordance with the Texas Open Meetings Act, to no avail. Thereafter, both were terminated. DME cited their inaccurate and misleading responses during their interviews on the matter as the reason for their termination.
Grim and Maynard filed their lawsuit in July 2017, claiming they were put on administrative leave in retaliation for reporting a media leak of confidential contract information. This action, they claimed, violated the Texas Whistleblower Act. On July 11, 2017, the day after they filed their lawsuit, both were fired.
At trial, the jury found in favor of Michael Grim and Jim Maynard on their claims under the Texas Whistleblower Act (TWA). The award of damages was thereafter reduced, however, the amount of the judgment with interest is approximately $3 million. The jury’s finding that their employer’s actions violated the TWA was affirmed on appeal.
Texas Whistleblower Act (TWA)
Public employees who make good faith reports of violations of law by their employers to law enforcement are protected by the TWA. Whistleblowers provide an important safeguard because they are often the eyes and ears on the ground and the first to know about corporate and government wrongdoing. Although there are also federal laws that apply more broadly, the TWA applies specifically to people employed by Texas local or state government entities. This includes employees of state education institutions, commissions, boards, law enforcement, bus drivers, and others.
Employment Retaliation Claims Face Tricky Legal Questions
To bring a successful retaliation claim under the TWA, a Texas claimant must:
- be a public employee; and
- act in good faith when making the report.
In addition, the employee must show that:
- the report was made to an appropriate law enforcement authority.
- the reported action was unlawful; and
- the employer must have taken what is legally defined as an adverse action against the employee in response to the report.
Texas Whistleblower Lawsuits Require Competent Legal Expertise in Order to Win in Court
Whistleblowers who believe they have a case should arm themselves with expert legal advice. Whistleblower lawsuits can turn on subtle legal questions like what is good faith? What is an appropriate law enforcement authority? What is an adverse action? Some critics have suggested that the law provides disproportionate protections to employers. Whistleblowers who believe they have a case need to be ready and arm themselves with expert advice.
Our Employment Lawyers Can Guide You Through Your Whistleblower and Retaliation Claims
Contact us with your whistleblower and employment retaliation questions. Competent legal representation is necessary in these complicated situations. We may be able to help you, just as we assisted Michael Grim and Jim Maynard. Reach out to us. To get the conversation started, click here Contact Kilgore Law.