Could calling the fire department lead to a wrongful discharge?

When there is danger, it is part of the responsibility of an employee to report it in an attempt to eradicate the problem and keep everyone safe. If there are underlying issues, however, a Texas employer may not wish for that information to be disclosed. One way for a company to keep a whistleblower quiet would be to remove the employee through a possible wrongful discharge.

A woman who worked for the Port Arthur Independent School District is claiming that she was retaliated against for reporting unsafe conditions. During her tenure, she worked in multiple positions and was most recently transferred to work as a receiver in the warehouse. In her complaint, she claims that she began to smell gas and tried to go to her manager to report it. When he was not available, she alerted the maintenance department of the situation.

One month later, the employee began to smell gas again, and just as before, she claims that her supervisor wasn't able to be reached, so she told the school's superintendent. She also mentioned that there were safety hazards that needed to be addressed such as not having a sprinkler system, smoke alarms or fire extinguishers that could be readily used. After this event, allegedly her supervisor told her that she was not to have any further communication with the superintendent. A third incident occurred three months later in which she called the fire department after she couldn't contact her supervisor.

After an internal investigation ensued, the plaintiff was asked if she had told the Fire Marshall about the incident, and she claimed that she had not. In her suit, she claims that she was fired because her employer said that she had lied about contacting the Fire Marshall. She is filing a retaliation and wrongful discharge claim in a Texas court and is looking to be awarded $1 million in damages for her suit. Employees who speak out about unethical or unsafe conditions in the workplace can reach out and file a claim against their employer. A favorable ruling for the employee could include damages, lost wages and being returned to work in his or her former position.

Source: The Southeast Texas Record, "School employee claims termination due to reporting fire hazards", Melody Dareing, June 11, 2014

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