Texas Whistleblower Act
City of Fort Worth v. Pridgen, —S.W.3d—, 2022 WL (Tex. May 27, 2022) [20-0700]
This case concerns the proper interpretation of “good faith report of a violation
of law” under the Texas Whistleblower Act. TEX. GOV’T CODE §§ 554.001–.010.
Abdul Pridgen and Vance Keyes were veteran law enforcement officers employed
by the Fort Worth Police Department. Both supervised the Department’s Internal
Affairs and Special Investigations Units, which are responsible for investigating
allegations of police misconduct. In December 2016, the Department received national
attention when a video depicting Officer William Martin’s forceful arrest of a woman
and her daughter went viral. Pridgen and Keyes helped lead the Department’s
subsequent investigation of the incident. After reviewing Officer Martin’s body camera
video, arrest affidavit, and a Facebook live video, they concluded he committed several
criminal violations and should be terminated. They assert they reported these
conclusions to their supervisor, Chief Fitzgerald, on multiple occasions. Ultimately,
Officer Martin was only suspended for ten days.
Several months after the incident, Officer Martin’s previously undisclosed body
camera video and other confidential files were released and posted on a public website
and Jacqueline Craig’s lawyer’s Facebook page. Chief Fitzgerald initiated an
investigation into the source of the leak. Internal Affairs officers concluded that
Pridgen had downloaded the files to a thumb drive, and that Keyes had been in
Pridgen’s office at the time of the download. Pridgen and Keyes were subsequently
placed on detached duty and demoted.
Pridgen and Keyes sued the City pursuant to the Whistleblower Act, alleging
the City took adverse action against them in response to their reports of Officer
Martin’s alleged violations of law. The trial court denied the City’s motions for
summary judgment. The court of appeals affirmed. The City petitioned for review in
the Supreme Court, arguing that Pridgen and Keyes did not “report” under the Act
because they did not disclose new information and that they made their “reports” as
part of their normal job duties.
The Supreme Court reversed. First, the Court held that based on common
dictionary definitions of the term, to “report” under the Act, an employee must provide
information as opposed to mere conclusions or opinions. Additionally, upon considering
the Act’s context and statutory framework, the Court held that to “report” under the
Act, a public employee must convey information that exposes or corroborates a violation
of law or otherwise provide relevant, additional information that will help identify or
investigate illegal conduct. The Court also held that the Act’s “good faith” limitation
applies to the “report” requirement.
The Court rejected the City’s argument that to “report” under the Act, an
employee must “disclose” new information. It reasoned that though disclosing new
information regarding illegal conduct may qualify as “report[ing] a violation of law,”
the Act protects other types of communications, such as corroborative reports. The
Court likewise rejected the City’s argument that employees do not “report a violation
of law” under the Act when they convey information as part of their job duties. It
reasoned that such a limitation might preclude the Act from protecting public
employees in positions where they are best equipped to convey information regarding
Applying these principles, the Court determined that Pridgen and Keyes had
failed to “report” under the Act. First, the Court concluded that Pridgen’s and Keyes’
“reports” were not geared toward exposing, corroborating, or otherwise providing
information pertinent to identifying or investigating governmental illegality. It noted
that Pridgen and Keyes did not “report” any new information to Chief Fitzgerald.
Additionally, since Pridgen and Keyes and Chief Fitzgerald reviewed the same, self verifying sources, Pridgen and Keyes did not “corroborate” any facts that were
unverified or subject to dispute. The Court concluded that Pridgen’s and Keyes’s
testimony merely evidenced an intent to persuade Chief Fitzgerald to classify Officer
Martin’s known actions as criminal conduct and to terminate his employment. It held
that these recommendations amount to conclusions and opinions that do not trigger
the Act’s protections. Therefore, the Act does not waive the City’s immunity from suit.
Justice Blacklock concurred. The concurrence agreed with the majority that to
“report” under the Act, employees must convey information, not just conclusions, and
that Pridgen’s and Keyes’s statements did not satisfy this requirement. However, he
thought the Court erred in rejecting the City’s other proposed limitations. He also
disagreed with the Court’s discussion of the Act’s purpose, which he believed risked
opening the door to expansive readings of the Act that could jeopardize other executivebranch prerogatives, like hiring and firing employees.
Justice Boyd dissented. The dissent agreed with the majority that reports must
provide information. However, he argued that Pridgen and Keyes satisfied this
requirement because their reports included factual information regarding conduct they
reasonably believed constituted violations of law. Therefore, they submitted sufficient
evidence to show they “report[ed]” under the Act.