Former Assistant Principal’s Whistleblower Suit Services a Plea to the Jurisdiction, Per Texas Court of Appeals

When it comes to legal matters, including a Dallas retaliatory discharge lawsuit, timeliness is extremely important. When a claim is not filed within the time required by law, the courts will usually dismiss the claim without considering its merits.

Of course, calculating the time in which a claim must be filed is sometimes a complicated matter. When the parties disagree as to the appropriate timeline, it is up to the trial court to make a decision as to the date by which suit should have been filed.

A party aggrieved by such a decision may seek further review from an appellate court.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case arising in the District Court for Wise County, Texas, the plaintiff was a former assistant principal in the defendant school district. In 2012, the plaintiff filed suit against the defendant, asserting that the defendant had violated the Whistleblower Act by firing him in retaliation for reporting certain alleged legal violations by the defendant. The plaintiff’s suit sought damages for lost wages, lost employment benefits, pecuniary losses, emotional pain and suffering, mental anguish, inconvenience, loss of enjoyment of life, and attorney’s fees. The plaintiff also requested reinstatement to his former position as an assistant principal (or a comparable position) as if he had never been suspended or terminated.

After several years of litigation, the defendant filed a plea to the jurisdiction of the court. The trial court denied the defendant’s motion, and it appealed.

The Decision of the Appeals Court

The Court of Appeals for the Second Appellate District of Texas at Fort Worth affirmed the trial court’s order and remanded the case for further proceedings, thereby rejecting the defendant’s argument that the trial court lacked subject matter jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s claim because the plaintiff had not filed his lawsuit until after the 30-day jurisdictional limitations period for whistleblower claims had run. In so holding, the court acknowledged prior case law regarding the effect that appeals and remands have on the issue of timeliness in cases involving teacher contract disputes, quoting Charles Dickens in a footnote (“… so complicated that no man alive knows what it means. …”)

The defendant argued that the plaintiff should have filed his claim within 30 days of the date that its board had voted to end the administrative proceedings in the plaintiff’s case and pay him a year’s salary under Texas Education Code § 21.304(f). However, the court of appeals disagreed with this contention, noting that there was nothing in Chapter 21 to indicate what should happen “when a proposed termination became an actual termination,” as was the case here. The court also stated that Whistleblower complaints did not require exhaustion with the Commissioner (unlike complaints about proposed terminations under Chapter 2128). According to the court, the record reflected that the plaintiff sufficiently initiated his actual termination complaint under the applicable grievance procedure prior to filing the instant lawsuit within the Whistleblower Act limitations period and thus the trial court did not err by denying the defendant’s plea to the jurisdiction.

Experienced Dallas Employment Law Defense Attorneys

As this case illustrates, sometimes the resolution of disputes between employers and employees can take a long time. It’s important that your business be represented by knowledgeable and effective legal counsel in order to minimize the disruption on day-to-day operations. To schedule an appointment to discuss a matter of concern with a seasoned Dallas employment litigation attorney, please contact Key Harrington Barnes via the contact form on this website or by calling our offices at 214-615-7925.

Contact Information