Frederick Wright recently sued the Texas Railroad Commission for terminating his employment in violation of state whistleblower laws. If the suit is not settled, it could attract considerable attention in Texas.
Wright was on the fast track
Wright was a petroleum engineer who worked at the Bureau of Land Management and as an engineer in oil and gas fields before joining the Railroad Commission of Texas in 2007 as an engineering specialist. He quickly advanced, receiving two promotions in four years. At the end of 2012, the Railroad Commission gave him a merit bonus. Wright's employment file was squeaky clean.
Prepare the whistle
In February 2013, the Houston district director asked Wright to approve completion reports on oil and gas wells that were not in compliance with certain rules. Wright avoided a conflict by convincing the operator to modify the wells in exchange for an approval.
Shortly thereafter, the director asked Wright to approve additional reports on wells that were not in compliance with rules and regulations, Wright filed a complaint with agency directors. Immediately, Wright's superiors disciplined him for allegedly not relating well with operators. A month later, the Railroad Commission fired Wright. Two disciplinary complaints that were attached to Wright’s employment record were given to Wright. The complaints were from operators who said that Wright was demanded strict compliance with rules and regulations.
The Texas Railroad Commission argues that it terminated Wright because of documented complaints about his performance. Wright insists that the agency’s stated reasons are simply pretext for its retaliation of his whistleblowing.
The law in Texas
The Texas Whistleblower Act prohibits government employers' retaliating against a public employee who in good faith informed an appropriate law enforcement authority of a violation of law by the employing governmental entity or another public employee. The whistleblower who suffered retaliation may be entitled to injunctive and compensatory relief.
As the story of Wright’s lawsuit against the Texas Railroad Commission unfolds, the question of whether Wright reported his employer’s malfeasance to an appropriate law enforcement authority may be an issue to cause his suit to be dismissed.