Alice Gayle was employed as an administrator at Fort Bend ISD from 2006 to 2010. She alleged that she was wrongfully accused of falsifying school district records and that she was compelled to resign. She alleged that, prior to the accusation of wrongdoing against her, she made reports protected by the Texas Whistleblower Act. Gayle resigned after being informed that the school district administration was proposing her termination.
The Texas Whistleblower Act requires a public employee to “initiate action” under the grievance procedures of the employer relating to the adverse personnel action before suing under the Act. If a final decision is not rendered before the 61st day after the date grievance procedures are initiated, the employee may then elect to file suit. Fort Bend ISD tried for seven weeks to schedule a grievance hearing as required by the grievance policy. Gayle’s counsel finally agreed to schedule the hearing, then—the day before the scheduled hearing—filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the district and cancelled the grievance hearing claiming it was moot.
Fort Bend ISD filed a plea to the jurisdiction in the trial court arguing that the district was immune from claims under the Texas Whistleblower Act because Gayle failed to comply with the statute’s provision that required her to utilize the school district’s grievance policy before filing suit. The district argued that the law required Gayle to do more than file her grievance and stall until she filed suit—it required her to participate in the grievance process during the 60-day period so that the district had an opportunity to investigate and resolve the dispute before incurring costs of litigation. Gayle argued that she satisfied the law by simply filing her grievance. The trial court agreed with Gayle and denied the district’s plea to the jurisdiction. On appeal, the Houston Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision. The district sought review from the Texas Supreme Court, and on February 15, 2013, the Texas Supreme Court denied Fort Bend ISD’s petition for review, effectively upholding the trial court’s decision. Fort Bend Indep. Sch. Dist. v. Gayle
, No. 12-0408 (Texas Supreme Court). LAF’s Attorney: Ray Viada, Viada & Strayer, The Woodlands.