Municipal Clerk’s belief of “ticket fixing” was unreasonable under Whistleblower Act says 14th Court of Appeals.

 

The City of South Houston v. Sandra Rodriguez, 14-12-01119-CV (Tex. App. – Houston [14th], March 20, 2014).

This is an interlocutory appeal from the denial of a plea to the jurisdiction in a Whistleblower Act case which the Fourteenth Court of Appeals reversed.

Rodriguez worked as a municipal clerk for the City and supervised two employees. She discovered what she believed to be “ticket fixing” by one of the clerks. She reported the suspicion to a council member because the Mayor was allegedly involved in “fixing” several of the tickets.  She reported it to the City prosecutor and judge, who agreed discrepancies existed between the paper tickets and files entered electronically, but believed it was merely a matter of processing and did not take any action. The opinion is unclear at what point she was discharged, but a discharge occurred sometime later.

The Houston Court of Appeals analyzed the reports for the “good faith” element under the Whistleblower Act. Rodriguez’ belief the Mayor was involved was not reasonable given the limited hearsay she based it upon. Further Rodriguez offered no evidence regarding why “a reasonable chief clerk with her training and experience would have believed ticket fixing was occurring based on  fourteen tickets having been improperly processed in an office with the problems  faced by the South Houston municipal court office.”  The court almost offhandedly noted Rodriguez also could not point specifically to what statutory law makes illegal the specific activity she alleges. As a result, the City’s plea should have been granted.

If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel: Justice Boyce, Justice Jamison, and Justice Donovan.  Opinion by Justice Jamison.  The attorney listed for the City is William Helfand. The attorneys listed for Rodriguez are Joseph Y. Ahmad and Sufi Nasim Ahmad.