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Texas Immune to Some Retaliation Suits

(CN) - Texas and its political subdivisions are immune from workers' compensation retaliation lawsuits, the Texas Supreme Court ruled. The court reversed two rulings in dismissing a claim from a former Travis Central Appraisal District employee.

In ruling Friday, the Texas Supreme Court cited a 1995 case in which it held that the immunity of political subdivisions from such claims can be waived due to amendments to the Political Subdivision Law. City of LaPorte v. Barfield, 898 S.W.2d 288, 298-99 (Texas 1995).

Since Barfield, the Texas Legislature has continued to make changes to state labor code, including the Political Subdivisions Law. That affects the earlier decision, the high court ruled.

According to the ruling, respondent Diane Lee Norman went to work for the Travis Central Appraisal District (TCAD) as a probationary employee in January 2006. She was fired 6 months later, shortly after filing a workers' compensation claim.

Norman claimed she was fired in retaliation for seeking workers' compensation benefits. She sued TCAD for retaliatory discharge.

The district denied Norman's allegations and contested jurisdiction, claiming Norman was required to exhaust administrative remedies under TCAD grievance procedures before filing suit.

Norman responded that TCAD's grievance policy did not apply to her retaliatory discharge claim, and questioned whether the grievance process was available at all to her as a probationary employee.

The trial court denied TCAD's plea to the jurisdiction and the appeals court affirmed the trial court's order. The state Supreme Court reversed and dismissed.

"The waiver of governmental immunity must be clear and unambiguous, Tex. Gov't Code § 311.034, and the current version of the Political Subdivisions Law is too internally inconsistent to satisfy that standard," Justice David Medina wrote for the court. "We conclude then that the Political Subdivisions Law no longer waives immunity for retaliatory discharge claims under Chapter 451. Because a retaliatory discharge claim may not be brought against the government without its consent and the Political Subdivisions Law no longer provides such consent by waiving the government's immunity, the underlying claim in this case must be dismissed."

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