Ninth Court affirms whistleblower claim against BISD

By David Yates | Jan 29, 2016

BEAUMONT - A Texas appeals court is allowing a whistleblower lawsuit against the Beaumont Independent School District, which sought immunity from the claim, to continue.

Plaintiff George W. Thomas Jr., a former middle school teacher, filed suit against BISD on Dec. 23, 2013, in Jefferson County District Court, alleging he was fired for reporting illegal acts by the principal at South Park Middle School.

Court records show the problem-plagued district filed an appeal in January 2015, asserting a trial court erred in denying its plea to the jurisdiction for governmental immunity.

The Ninth Court of Appeals of Texas heard oral arguments in the case in September.

On Jan. 28 justices affirmed the trial court’s order denying the plea to the jurisdiction as to Thomas’s retaliation claims under the Texas Whistleblower Act.

“On the record now before us, we cannot say that the trial court abused its discretion in denying the plea to the jurisdiction because the trial court could have reasonably concluded that the plea to the jurisdiction should be denied to allow the record to be more fully developed,” the opinion states, authored by Justice Leanne Johnson.

On Appeal, BISD asked whether Thomas’ retaliation claim under the Texas Whistleblower Act was untimely and barred by the district’s governmental immunity.

In his suit, Thomas says he began teaching at South Park Middle School in the fall of 2008 in the position as In-School Suspension teacher until he was removed Aug. 26, 2013.

According to the complaint, Thomas received no adverse evaluations or reprimands during his tenure in the position. He alleges that former principal Duaine Harris asked him to add students who were out-of-school suspended to the in-school suspension attendance sheet.

The district was been mired in attendance fraud controversy.

Thomas says shortly after June 2013, he consulted with the Texas State Teacher’s Association representative regarding illegal acts requested by Harris and began to cooperate with the Texas Education Agency for their investigation of the attendance fraud at South Park Middle School.

On Aug. 26, 2013, Principal Harris came to Thomas and advised him he was not on the teacher’s role, when he was, and instructed Thomas he had been relieved of his position, according to the lawsuit.

Attorney Kevin S. Laine is representing him in the case.

Attorneys Clay Grover and Caitlin Sewell represent the district.

Trial case No. B195-084

Appeals case No. 09-15-00029

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