Law:Title 5. Open Government; Ethics. Subtitle A. Open Government from Chapter 554. Protection For Reporting Violations Of Law (Texas)

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Subtitle A. Open Government

Contents

Chapter 554. Protection For Reporting Violations Of Law

Section  554.001.  Definitions.

In this chapter:

(1)  "Law" means:

(A)  a state or federal statute;

(B)  an ordinance of a local governmental entity; or

(C)  a rule adopted under a statute or ordinance.

(2)  "Local governmental entity" means a political subdivision of the state, including a:

(A)  county;

(B)  municipality;

(C)  public school district; or

(D)  special-purpose district or authority.

(3)  "Personnel action" means an action that affects a public employee's compensation, promotion, demotion, transfer, work assignment, or performance evaluation.

(4)  "Public employee" means an employee or appointed officer other than an independent contractor who is paid to perform services for a state or local governmental entity.

(5)  "State governmental entity" means:

(A)  a board, commission, department, office, or other agency in the executive branch of state government, created under the constitution or a statute of the state, including an institution of higher education, as defined by Section 61.003, Education Code;

(B)  the legislature or a legislative agency; or

(C)  the Texas Supreme Court, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, a court of appeals, a state judicial agency, or the State Bar of Texas.

Added by Acts 1993, 73rd Leg., ch. 268, Sec. 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1993. Amended by Acts 1995, 74th Leg., ch. 721, Sec. 1, eff. June 15, 1995.



Section  554.002.  Retaliation Prohibited For Reporting Violation Of Law.

(a) A state or local governmental entity may not suspend or terminate the employment of, or take other adverse personnel action against, a public employee who in good faith reports a violation of law by the employing governmental entity or another public employee to an appropriate law enforcement authority.

(b)  In this section, a report is made to an appropriate law enforcement authority if the authority is a part of a state or local governmental entity or of the federal government that the employee in good faith believes is authorized to:

(1)  regulate under or enforce the law alleged to be violated in the report; or

(2)  investigate or prosecute a violation of criminal law.

Added by Acts 1993, 73rd Leg., ch. 268, Sec. 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1993. Amended by Acts 1995, 74th Leg., ch. 721, Sec. 2, eff. June 15, 1995.



Section  554.003.  Relief Available To Public Employee.

(a) A public employee whose employment is suspended or terminated or who is subjected to an adverse personnel action in violation of Section 554.002 is entitled to sue for:

(1)  injunctive relief;

(2)  actual damages;

(3)  court costs; and

(4)  reasonable attorney fees.

(b)  In addition to relief under Subsection (a), a public employee whose employment is suspended or terminated in violation of this chapter is entitled to:

(1)  reinstatement to the employee's former position or an equivalent position;

(2)  compensation for wages lost during the period of suspension or termination; and

(3)  reinstatement of fringe benefits and seniority rights lost because of the suspension or termination.

(c)  In a suit under this chapter against an employing state or local governmental entity, a public employee may not recover compensatory damages for future pecuniary losses, emotional pain, suffering, inconvenience, mental anguish, loss of enjoyment of life, and other nonpecuniary losses in an amount that exceeds:

(1)  $50,000, if the employing state or local governmental entity has fewer than 101 employees in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the calendar year in which the suit is filed or in the preceding year;

(2)  $100,000, if the employing state or local governmental entity has more than 100 and fewer than 201 employees in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the calendar year in which the suit is filed or in the preceding year;

(3)  $200,000, if the employing state or local governmental entity has more than 200 and fewer than 501 employees in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the calendar year in which the suit is filed or in the preceding year; and

(4)  $250,000, if the employing state or local governmental entity has more than 500 employees in each of 20 or more calendar weeks in the calendar year in which the suit is filed or in the preceding year.

(d)  If more than one subdivision of Subsection (c) applies to an employing state or local governmental entity, the amount of monetary damages that may be recovered from the entity in a suit brought under this chapter is governed by the applicable provision that provides the highest damage award.

Added by Acts 1993, 73rd Leg., ch. 268, Sec. 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1993. Amended by Acts 1995, 74th Leg., ch. 721, Sec. 3, eff. June 15, 1995.



Section  554.0035.  Waiver Of Immunity.

A public employee who alleges a violation of this chapter may sue the employing state or local governmental entity for the relief provided by this chapter. Sovereign immunity is waived and abolished to the extent of liability for the relief allowed under this chapter for a violation of this chapter.

Added by Acts 1995, 74th Leg., ch. 721, Sec. 4, eff. June 15, 1995.



Section  554.004.  Burden Of Proof; Presumption; Affirmative Defense.

(a) A public employee who sues under this chapter has the burden of proof, except that if the suspension or termination of, or adverse personnel action against, a public employee occurs not later than the 90th day after the date on which the employee reports a violation of law, the suspension, termination, or adverse personnel action is presumed, subject to rebuttal, to be because the employee made the report.

(b)  It is an affirmative defense to a suit under this chapter that the employing state or local governmental entity would have taken the action against the employee that forms the basis of the suit based solely on information, observation, or evidence that is not related to the fact that the employee made a report protected under this chapter of a violation of law.

Added by Acts 1993, 73rd Leg., ch. 268, Sec. 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1993. Amended by Acts 1995, 74th Leg., ch. 721, Sec. 5, eff. June 15, 1995.



Section  554.005.  Limitation Period.

Except as provided by Section 554.006, a public employee who seeks relief under this chapter must sue not later than the 90th day after the date on which the alleged violation of this chapter:

(1)  occurred; or

(2)  was discovered by the employee through reasonable diligence.

Added by Acts 1993, 73rd Leg., ch. 268, Sec. 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1993.



Section  554.006.  Use Of Grievance Or Appeal Procedures.

(a) A public employee must initiate action under the grievance or appeal procedures of the employing state or local governmental entity relating to suspension or termination of employment or adverse personnel action before suing under this chapter.

(b)  The employee must invoke the applicable grievance or appeal procedures not later than the 90th day after the date on which the alleged violation of this chapter:

(1)  occurred; or

(2)  was discovered by the employee through reasonable diligence.

(c)  Time used by the employee in acting under the grievance or appeal procedures is excluded, except as provided by Subsection (d), from the period established by Section 554.005.

(d)  If a final decision is not rendered before the 61st day after the date procedures are initiated under Subsection (a), the employee may elect to:

(1)  exhaust the applicable procedures under Subsection (a), in which event the employee must sue not later than the 30th day after the date those procedures are exhausted to obtain relief under this chapter; or

(2)  terminate procedures under Subsection (a), in which event the employee must sue within the time remaining under Section 554.005 to obtain relief under this chapter.

Added by Acts 1993, 73rd Leg., ch. 268, Sec. 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1993. Amended by Acts 1995, 74th Leg., ch. 721, Sec. 6, eff. June 15, 1995.



Section  554.007.  Where Suit Brought.

(a) A public employee of a state governmental entity may sue under this chapter in a district court of the county in which the cause of action arises or in a district court of Travis County.

(b)  A public employee of a local governmental entity may sue under this chapter in a district court of the county in which the cause of action arises or in a district court of any county in the same geographic area that has established with the county in which the cause of action arises a council of governments or other regional commission under Chapter 391, Local Government Code.

Added by Acts 1993, 73rd Leg., ch. 268, Sec. 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1993. Amended by Acts 1995, 74th Leg., ch. 721, Sec. 7, eff. June 15, 1995.



Section  554.008.  Civil Penalty.

(a) A supervisor who in violation of this chapter suspends or terminates the employment of a public employee or takes an adverse personnel action against the employee is liable for a civil penalty not to exceed $15,000.

(b)  The attorney general or appropriate prosecuting attorney may sue to collect a civil penalty under this section.

(c)  A civil penalty collected under this section shall be deposited in the state treasury.

(d)  A civil penalty assessed under this section shall be paid by the supervisor and may not be paid by the employing governmental entity.

(e)  The personal liability of a supervisor or other individual under this chapter is limited to the civil penalty that may be assessed under this section.

Added by Acts 1993, 73rd Leg., ch. 268, Sec. 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1993. Amended by Acts 1995, 74th Leg., ch. 721, Sec. 8, eff. June 15, 1995.



Section  554.009.  Notice To Employees.

(a) A state or local governmental entity shall inform its employees of their rights under this chapter by posting a sign in a prominent location in the workplace.

(b)  The attorney general shall prescribe the design and content of the sign required by this section.

Added by Acts 1993, 73rd Leg., ch. 268, Sec. 1, eff. Sept. 1, 1993. Amended by Acts 1995, 74th Leg., ch. 721, Sec. 9, eff. June 15, 1995.



Section  554.010.  Audit Of State Governmental Entity After Suit.

(a) At the conclusion of a suit that is brought under this chapter against a state governmental entity subject to audit under Section 321.013 and in which the entity is required to pay $10,000 or more under the terms of a settlement agreement or final judgment, the attorney general shall provide to the state auditor's office a brief memorandum describing the facts and disposition of the suit.

(b)  Not later than the 90th day after the date on which the state auditor's office receives the memorandum required by Subsection (a), the auditor may audit or investigate the state governmental entity to determine any changes necessary to correct the problems that gave rise to the whistleblower suit and shall recommend such changes to the Legislative Audit Committee, the Legislative Budget Board, and the governing board or chief executive officer of the entity involved. In conducting the audit or investigation, the auditor shall have access to all records pertaining to the suit.

Added by Acts 1995, 74th Leg., ch. 721, Sec. 10, eff. June 15, 1995.


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