Supervisor’s directive that employee “snitch” on anything going wrong is not “criminal activity” under the Texas Whistleblower Act

Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas v. Ronald Williams 01-17-00724-CV (Tex. App—Houston, January 25, 2018)

This is a Texas Whistleblower Act suit where the First District Court of Appeals in Houston reversed the denial of the employer’s plea to the jurisdiction and rendered judgment for the Metro Authority.

Williams was a track maintainer for Metro. Williams complained to Metro’s compliance officer asserting a hostile work environment by his supervisor, Ratcliff.  Williams alleged Ratcliff instructed him to “snitch” on anyone or anything going wrong on the track and that when Williams expressed reservations Ratcliff became hostile. Later a incident occurred between Williams and another Metro employee, Fred Burton. Burton reported the incident to the Metro police the next day. Burton asserted Williams began to curse at him, calling him a derogatory name for a black person, and threatening to fight him off Metro property. Three other people were witnesses to the incident, including Ratcliff. Williams wrote a response to the incident but asserts Burton’s accusations were retaliation for Williams’ complaint against Ratcliff. Police charged Williams with assault by threat and Metro terminated Williams. On an aside, after Williams was terminated, another employee reported Ratcliff and Burton for theft of Metro property and Williams cooperated with the investigation.  Williams filed suit under the Texas Whistleblower Act. Metro filed a plea to the jurisdiction which the trial court denied. Metro appealed.

“Snitch” means to report on someone else. Williams’ attempt to change the meaning is unsupported in the text of his report. In the context of the entire passage, Ratcliff asking Williams to be his eyes and ears on the track conveys the idea that Williams would watch what other people were doing and report to Ratcliff. Nothing in this passage indicates that Ratcliff was engaged in any criminal activity and seeking Williams’s help in the process.  Simply because Williams was later charged with a crime by another employee does not mean Williams was retaliated against  for his report to the compliance officer. Metro produced evidence that another employee reported the criminal acts of Ratcliff and Burton after Williams was fired. Metro’s evidence established that an officer was assigned to investigate the allegations and that the first time the officer spoke to Williams was after he had been terminated. Metro could, therefore, not retaliate against him because of anything he provided the officer.

If you would like to read the opinion click here. Panel consists of Chief Justice Radack, Justice Higley, Justice Bland. Memorandum opinion by Justice Valdez. The attorney listed for Ronald Williams is Todd Webb. The attorneys listed for Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County are Daniel Nicholas Ramirez and Hao Pham Le.

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