Ex-PA employee loses suit with city

Published 5:32 pm Monday, November 21, 2016

A former city of Port Arthur employee lost his appeal in a lawsuit against the city over his employment termination.

David Jones, the appellant, filed the suit in 2012 in the 172nd District Court of Jefferson County. The appeal was made in the Ninth District Court of Appeals who rendered the judgment.

“It is therefore ordered, in accordance with the Court’s opinion, that the judgment of the trial court is affirmed . All costs of the appeal are assessed against the appellant (Jones),” according to the summary.

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Under the memorandum opinion section of ruling, Jones was employed as an operator of a residential garbage truck with the city of Port Arthur. After he was terminated and his administrative appeal to the city denied, Jones sued the city for violation of the Texas Whistleblower Act.

By definition, the Texas Whistleblower Act prohibits governmental entities on the state and local level from suspending, terminating, or taking adverse personnel actions against a public employee who, in good faith, reports a violation of law committed by the employing governmental entity or another public employee to an appropriate law enforcement authority.

He sought damages and attorney’s fees. The city filed a plea to the jurisdiction and traditional an no-evidence motions for summary judgment.

The trial court granted the city’s plea to the jurisdiction and motions for summary judgment and dismissed Jones’s claims against the city.

On the appeal, jones contends the trial court erred and abused its discretion by granting the city’s pleas to the jurisdiction and motions for summary judgment because (1) he presented numerous issues of material fact that should have been resolved by a jury, and (2) he demonstrated that the city violated the Texas Whistleblower Act.


Factual Background

According to Jones’s Third Amended Petition, on May 23, 2012, he was

employed with the City as an operator of a residential garbage truck. Jones

believed the truck assigned to him that day, Truck 1713, was “leaking potentially

flammable hydraulic fluid used by the truck’s hydraulic lift system.”

Jones reported the malfunction with Truck 1713 to the senior mechanic in the City’s

Operations Center of the Public Works Department.

Jones alleges that after the

senior mechanic indicated it was a small leak, his immediate supervisor instructed

him to perform his garbage collection duties using Truck 1713. When Jones

refused to operate Truck 1713, he was told to report to Anitra Smith, the City’s

Solid Waste Management Division Superintendent.

Jones alleges that he informed Smith that he did not want to operate Truck 1713 “because of the potential environmental and safety hazards that the hydraulic leak posed to the public and to the driver of the truck.” Jones claims that he told Smith he believed the operation of Truck 1713 was “illegal and that he could be cited by law enforcement” for its operation.

According to Jones, he requested another truck to complete his route, or

alternatively asked to delay his route until Truck 1713’s leak could be repaired.

Jones contends that Smith ordered him to operate the leaking truck that day, and

when he refused to comply, Smith “sent him home from work indefinitely, as an

adverse and disciplinary employment action.”

According to Jones’s pleading, on June 11, 2012, he filed an appeal of his

termination to the City’s Appeals Committee. Jones alleges that a hearing was held

and that at the hearing, he presented his complaints regarding the condition of the

garbage trucks and his belief that he had been terminated in retaliation “for his

good faith reports of multiple violations of law by the City pertaining to

environmental compliance and safety and workplace safety.”

On June 28, 2012, Jones was notified by John Comeaux, the acting City Manager, that the Appeals Committee recommended Jones’s termination be upheld and that Comeaux had decided to follow the Committee’s recommendation.

Jones filed suit against the City on September 12, 2012. After the trial court

granted the City’s plea to the jurisdiction and motions for summary judgment,

Jones filed a motion for new trial, which the trial court denied. Thereafter, Jones

filed a timely notice of appeal.

In conclusion: “Jones failed to establish an objective, good-faith belief that he reported an alleged violation of the law to appropriate law-enforcement authorities that caused him to suffer an adverse personnel action under the Act.

Accordingly, we conclude that the trial court did not err in determining it lacked jurisdiction over Jones’s Whistleblower action and in dismissing the cause. We overrule Jones’s two issues and affirm the trial court’s judgment,” it read.

David Ball: 409-721-2427