Fired for Doing What's Right, Woman Says
CONROE, Texas (CN) - Splendora, a tiny Houston suburb, fired an employee for truthfully reporting the city secretary's being drunk and driving drunk at work, the fired worker claims in court.
Carolyn Prickett sued Splendora in Montgomery County Court.
Splendora, pop. 1,615, is 40 miles northeast of Houston.
Prickett says in the lawsuit that Splendora hired her as a code enforcement officer in 2010, then transferred her to its utility department.
There, she claims, she "observed numerous instances when defendant's city secretary appeared intoxicated while at work at the Town Hall. Plaintiff was not the only individual to notice the city secretary's condition[.] Former City Council members and the chief of police also observed the city secretary's demeanor. Because of their police training, both the chief and plaintiff are more than qualified to ascertain when an individual is under the influence or exhibiting signs of intoxication."
Prickett's complaint does not mention the names of the city secretary, mayor or police chief. The only defendant is the city.
Prickett claims that on April 9 this year she "suspected that the city secretary was again intoxicated while at work. Plaintiff also observed the city secretary operating her vehicle several times during the day while in an intoxicated state. These events were recorded by video surveillance tapes, which show the city secretary stumbling and swerving as she walked. The city secretary was also observed dropping her keys and other items.
"On one occasion on April 9, 2013, after 'taking a break' off site, the city secretary was promptly escorted back outside by another employee who consistently covered for her and assisted the city secretary back in her car."
Prickett says she requested a meeting with the mayor to discuss the secretary's behavior, but the mayor "dismissed" her concerns.
"On April 9, 2013, plaintiff sent several text messages to the chief of police in which plaintiff reported her observations and concern that the city secretary was intoxicated and attempting to operate a vehicle in violation of the applicable DUI laws," the complaint states. "Defendant's chief of police acknowledged his receipt of plaintiff's text messages.
"On or about April 18, 2013, plaintiff made an 'Open Records Request' for the videos taken by the defendant's security cameras located in the foyer/lobby. This request was presented to the city secretary in her capacity as the Open Records Officer, who received plaintiff's request and processed the same.
"On or about April 24, 2013, plaintiff was summoned to the office of the city secretary, who asked plaintiff if she still wished to pursue her request for a copy of the videotapes. When plaintiff replied 'yes,' the city secretary directed her to go into the mayor's office.
"When plaintiff arrived at the meeting, the mayor presented plaintiff with a prepared letter stating that she was being 'laid off' because there was no longer any need for a code-enforcement position and there were no budgetary funds to support her continued employment in the defendant's police department.
"As she delivered the letter, the mayor indicated to plaintiff 'This is an at-will firing city' and 'we have pretty high standards here ... and I feel your performance was just not up to our standards' and further stated 'then I terminate you as of today.' Prior to plaintiff's termination, no adverse letters were contained in plaintiff's personnel file nor did plaintiff have documented job performance issues.
"Plaintiff was taken by surprise at the presentation of a prepared letter for her signature. Plaintiff became tearful and upset over the fact that she was being terminated for no apparent reason other than her declared intent to report a crime. Plaintiff initially refused to sign the letter, but was later encouraged to sign the letter by the police chief, who assured her it would be in her best interests. Plaintiff did not then and does not now agree with the statements in the letter." (Ellipsis in complaint.)
Prickett says she appealed her firing with a formal grievance to the City Council, which affirmed her termination on June 3.
She seeks lost wages and benefits and punitive damages for violations of the Texas Whistleblower Act.
She is represented by Nicholas O'Kelly with Kilgore & Kilgore of Dallas.