Nurse who reported believed violation of overtime restrictions to legal department deemed not to have reported to proper agency under Whistleblower Act

Erin Reding v. Lubbock County Hospital District d/b/a University Medical Center, 07-18-00313-CV, (Tex. App – Amarillo, March 18, 2020)

This is a Texas Whistleblower Act case where the Amarillo Court of Appeals affirmed the granting of the hospital district’s plea to the jurisdiction.

Reding is a registered nurse working for the Lubbock County Hospital District d/b/a University Medical Center (“UMC”). UMC announced plans for a new policy that would require nurses to sign up for two mandatory “on call” shifts per month and discipline for those who did not comply. Reding believed the proposed compulsory shifts would violate § 258.003 of the Texas Health & Safety Code, prohibiting a hospital from requiring a nurse to work mandatory overtime.  She filed a complaint with the human resources and legal departments. Reding was later terminated and she asserts the termination was retaliatory.  She brought suit under the Texas Whistleblower Act. UMC filed a plea to the jurisdiction which was granted.  Reding appealed.

Reding alleged that she “reasonably and in good faith believed that [UMC’s] legal department was the appropriate authority to whom she should report the violation.” However, the Texas Supreme Court has consistently held that “reports up the chain of command are insufficient to trigger the Act’s protections.” To qualify, the internal department must also have outward-looking powers, as an “authority to enforce, investigate, or prosecute violations of law against third parties outside of the entity itself, or it must have authority to promulgate regulations governing the conduct of such third parties.” While the legal department at UMC may oversee internal compliance with the law governing nurses’ work hours, that is not the same as having the authority to enforce laws against third parties. The plea was properly granted.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. The panel consists of Chief Justice Quinn and Justices Pirtle and Parker. Memorandum Opinion by Justice Parker. The attorney listed for Reding is J. Craig Johnston.  The attorney listed for UMC is Don C. Dennis.

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