Teacher sues district, claims termination was in retaliation… | TCTA
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Teacher sues district, claims termination was in retaliation for reporting misconduct

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A teacher sued a school district, arguing that it retaliated against him in violation of the Texas Whistleblower Act by relying on reports that he made to Child Protective Services when it made the decision to terminate his contract.

The teacher began his employment as an intern in the alternative certification program. He began reporting misconduct by two other teachers at the school where he was assigned.

He sent an anonymous report to the district's Child Abuse and Domestic Violence Prevention Office, accusing one teacher of sexually harassing a female teacher and discussing students in a sexual way. He also sent the information to local media outlets and the Texas Education Agency.

The accused teacher was placed on administrative leave while the district investigated. The district concluded that the allegations were unfounded.

The teacher also made a report to Child Protective Services that another teacher at the school physically harmed a student. That teacher was also placed on administrative leave while CPS investigated the report. Subsequently, both accused teachers were returned to teaching at the school.

The teacher received a positive performance evaluation for the school year, and the district continued his employment for the next school year under a probationary contract. The following school year, the teacher again reported suspected child abuse by a colleague. At the close of that school year, the teacher's principal recommended that he receive a teacher certification and commended him on his job performance for the year.

During the following school year, the teacher's interpersonal conflicts with colleagues became a distraction at the school and were disruptive to the school's educational environment. The teacher contacted his principal and claimed that another teacher bullied and threatened him.

Although the principal assured the teacher that his concerns would be addressed and that he should contact police if he felt he was in danger, the teacher sent an email to a local news station and current and former school staff that accused the other teacher of harassment and bullying. The email included his previous anonymous report in which he accused the teacher of sexually harassing a teacher and discussing students in a sexual way.

Within this email, the teacher also identified, by name, a minor student who had been the alleged victim of child abuse. The teacher subsequently sent similar emails, several of which also contained the minor's name, to various media outlets, Immigration and Customs Enforcement within the Department of Homeland Security, and other third parties.

The teacher was ultimately placed on administrative leave with pay and notified that the district would terminate his probationary contract at the end of the school year. Later that year, he sued the school district, alleging it violated the Texas Whistleblower Act when it terminated him in retaliation for making reports to CPS concerning teachers inappropriately touching students. The district responded that the board did not know about, or rely on, the teacher's CPS reports in reaching its decision and requested that the lawsuit be dismissed. The court dismissed the lawsuit and the teacher appealed to the court of appeals.

The Texas Whistleblower Act states that a state or local government entity (including a public school district) 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.

To prove a claim under the Whistleblower Act, the public employee "must prove that the adverse action 'would not have occurred when it did' if the employee had not reported the violation."

On appeal, the teacher argued that a jury could find that the district terminated his contract because of his protected reports to CPS involving the inappropriate touching of children. The district responded that the teacher would have been terminated for misconduct regardless of his reports to CPS.

The court of appeals agreed with the district. The district conducted an investigation into the conflicts that the teacher had with co-workers and submitted that report to a legal review committee for a recommendation on further action. The evidence presented showed that when the committee met, it did not discuss or consider the CPS reports, but rather was concerned with the investigative finding showing that the teacher engaged in bullying behavior toward other teachers in violation of board policy. Therefore, the district was able to show that the termination would have occurred regardless of whether or not the teacher made a report to CPS.