Brownsville ISD can’t Block Fired School Secretary’s Whistleblower Lawsuit

Map Brownsville ISD

Ruling: An ex-elementary campus secretary can continue pursuing her Whistleblower lawsuit against her former school district. Brownsville ISD v. Jasmin Leal, No. 13-21-00162-CV. Issued May 25 by the Texas Thirteenth Court of Appeals (Corpus Christi Edinburg).

Whistleblower Law
This Thirteenth Court decision hinges on the requirements of the state’s Whistleblower law, which provides (in essense) that governmental entities can’t retaliate against an employee for making a “good faith” report to a law enforcement authority about a violation of a law.

The justices concluded that Leal, who was fired from her longtime job as a secretary at BISD’s Burns Elementary in May 2019, is entitled to continue litigating her Whistleblower lawsuit at the trial court level. (The dispute wound up before the Thirteenth Court after BISD appealed the trial judge’s refusal to dismiss the lawsuit.)

Leal claimed her firing was in retaliation for her telling a BISD police officer — who was interviewing her while she was under investigation into $1,000 that was missing from from a student fund raiser — that her principal may have had something to do with the theft.

Leal claimed there had been occasions where the principal had gone through locked files where money was kept, including times in which the money later turned up missing.

Unsuccessfully Argued
BISD unsuccessfully argued that Leal did not qualify for Whistleblower protections because: 1) when she was interviewed by the BISD police officer, she was suspected of having stolen money at the school and 2) the investigation was not launched due to anything Leal had reported to police.

  • Note:The record reflects that the investigation was launched after a teacher at Leal’s school emailed the district’s police department to report that $1,000 of the $2,700 raised from a PK class fund raising activity — money that was entrusted to Leal due to her responsibility over such activity fund financial matters at the school — had become unaccounted for by the next day.

These factors, BISD argued, added up to Leal not having made a “good faith” report to law enforcement because what she told the police officer about her principal was an attempt “to deflect from her own culpability.”

The justices rejected BISD’s claims by concluding that the applicable law allows governmental employees to be able to claim Whistleblower protections even if the employee: 1) is not the “originator” of the complaint to law enforcement and/or 2) is under suspicion for having committed the crime being investigated.

The justices thus concluded that the information provided by Leal about her principal during her interview with the police officer preserved her right to continue litigating her lawsuit.

  • Note: The record reflects that one of the outcomes of BISD’s investigation were reports that collectively concluded that the mismanagement of Burns Elementary funds by Leal and her principal resulted in $34,176.13 in unaccounted-for funds, and that there was pattern of shoddy record keeping, the forging of signatures, and missing funds.

    It was also reported that criminal charges against Leal relating to the investigation were dismissed due to insufficient evidence.