The Texas Supreme Court recently provided much-needed guidance on the definition of the term “appropriate law enforcement authority” under the Texas Whistleblower Act.  In TexasA & M University-Kingsville v. Moreno, __ S.W.3d __, 2013 WL 646380 (Tex. 2013), Gertrud Moreno worked for Texas A&M-Kingsville (TAMUK) as an assistant vice president and comptroller.  After the university fired her, Moreno sued alleging that her termination violated the Texas Whistleblower Act, Texas Government Code § 554.002.  She claimed her supervisor fired her for reporting to the TAMUK president that the supervisor’s daughter had received in-state tuition in violation of state law.

The university argued that Moreno’s internal report regarding the daughter’s in-state tuition fees did not amount to a good faith report of a violation of law to “an appropriate law enforcement authority.”  The Texas Supreme Court took up the issue and ultimately agreed with TAMUK that the university president, who received Moreno’s internal report, was not an “appropriate law enforcement authority.”  Here’s what the Court said:

  • To meet the definition of an “appropriate law enforcement authority” requires that “the reported-to entity be charged with more than mere internal adherence to the law allegedly violated.”
  • A law enforcement authority must have “authority to enforce, investigate, or prosecute violations of law against third parties outside of the entity itself, or it must have authority to promulgate regulations governing the conduct of such third parties.”
  • A supervisor is not an appropriate law enforcement authority where the supervisor lacks the authority to enforce the law against third parties generally.

 

In this case, the university present oversaw only internal university compliance with the tuition and, as a result, was not an “appropriate law enforcement authority” under the Whistleblower Act.  Click here for the  full opinion.

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