Who is an employer in Texas and who counts as an employee according to the Texas Whistleblower Act? Those are questions that surround the lawsuit against Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who is facing claims from four former aides under Texas whistleblower law. According to a recent report in the Texas Tribune, those four former aides to Paxton have alleged that “they were fired in retaliation for telling authorities they believe Paxton had done illegal favors for a political donor, Austin real estate investor Nate Paul.” The allegations made by those former aides resulted in an FBI investigation, but Paxton’s office is arguing that the Texas Whistleblower Act is not applicable to the claims because the law does not apply to claims made against the Attorney General as an individual.
Are allegations made against Paxton covered by the whistleblower law? Our Dallas employment law attorneys want to provide you with more information to help you understand the claims and what is at stake in the case.
Details of the Lawsuit Against Paxton
Former “top employees” of Paxton’s office, according to a report from the Associated Press, initiated the case back in September 2020 when they “reported him to federal authorities for alleged crimes they say he committed in assisting Austin real estate developer Nate Paul.” Since reporting Paxton to federal authorities, each of those employees has “resigned, been put on leave, or been fired,” according to AP News.
In November 2020, former employees who had worked under Paxton filed a lawsuit, alleging that their terminations amounted to unlawful retaliation. The complaint, which was filed in a Travis County court, alleged that “Paxton responded to the report immediately and with ferocity, as though he was trying to consciously show Texans exactly what retaliation against whistleblowers looks like.”
Who is Covered by the Texas Whistleblower Act?
The Texas Whistleblower Act was created to protect public employees who, in good faith, report their superiors’ illegal activities to the proper authorities. As part of the ongoing lawsuit, the former employees have sought subpoenas to question Paxton and others related to the case, and the Attorney General’s office is arguing that Paxton cannot be sued under the Texas Whistleblower Act because “the Attorney General is neither a governmental entity nor a public employee and, thus, the Whistleblower Act does not extend protection to reports of unlawful conduct made against the Attorney General personally.”
The Texas Whistleblower Act defines a public employee as “an employee or appointed officer other than an independent contractor who is paid to perform services for a state or local governmental entity.” Paxton was elected to his office and is, therefore, not employed or appointed.
A state governmental entity is defined as one of the following:
- 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;”
- The “legislature or a legislative agency;” or
- The “Texas Supreme Court, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals, a court of appeals, a state judicial agency, or the State Bar of Texas.”
Whether Paxton can be sued and can be held accountable for retaliation under state whistleblower law, will have to be clarified by the court.
Contact a Dallas Employment Law Attorney Today
State governmental entities with public employees are clearly covered by the Texas Whistleblower Act, and in some cases, private employers also can face claims under federal whistleblower law. If you run a business in Texas and have questions about your rights and responsibilities when an employee makes allegations of wrongdoing, you should seek advice from one of our experienced Texas employment law attorneys. Our firm can begin working with you today. Contact Simon Paschal PLLC for more information.