Internal policy against outside reporting of criminal violations does not relieve employee of requirement to report to appropriate law enforcement authority under Whistleblower Act
Office of Attorney General v Ginger Weatherspoon, 14-0582 (Tex. September 18, 2015).
This is a Texas Whistleblower Act case where the Texas Supreme Court reversed the denial of the State’s plea to the jurisdiction and dismissed the case.
Weatherspoon was an assistant attorney general in the Child Support Division. She alleges that two senior attorneys in the Office of the Attorney General (“OAG”) tried to coerce her to sign a false affidavit regarding her interactions with a judge. She refused, and claimed the attorneys’ conduct amounted to subornation of perjury. OAG policy requires employees to report a potential criminal violation to their division chief, who must then refer it to the OAG’s Office of Special Investigations. Weatherspoon reported to her chief but asserts no action was taken. She was eventually terminated and claims retaliation under the Texas Whistleblower Act. The OAG filed a plea to the jurisdiction which the trial court denied. The Court of Appeals affirmed the denial.
The Texas Supreme Court noted the court of appeals did not have the benefit of the Court’s holding in Texas Department of Human Services v. Okoli, 440 S.W.3d 611, 615–16 (Tex. 2014). Based on the Okoli holding the Court stated a policy requiring employees to report violations to their supervisors, who must then send the complaints to an appropriate law-enforcement authority, is not enough for a good-faith belief that the supervisors are an appropriate authority. Accordingly, Weatherspoon’s reports were insufficient. Weatherspoon asserted that if she had reported to an outside law enforcement authority, the OAG policy could be used to terminate her. The Court disagreed and held an entity cannot rely on an internal policy to prevent outside reporting. If the report is a proper report, they cannot be retaliated against for going to an outside agency with law enforcement power. The plea should have been granted.