Sunday, September 14, 2014

Lyons' wrongful termination suit vs. TDCJ reinstated

Former TDCJ flak Michelle Lyons saw her wrongful termination lawsuit against the agency reinstated last week after the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a summary judgment ruling by the trial judge. Readers may recall Lyons was accused of lying on her time sheets. But, reported the Huntsville Item (Sept. 10):
The circuit court said the lower court and TDCJ did not mention evidence that could have led a jury to favor on Lyons’ side. That evidence was a statement by Lyons’ then-supervisor Larry Fitzgerald, who retired in 2003.

“I explained to Ms. Lyons that since she was an exempt employee she was not eligible for overtime,” Fitzgerald said in part of his affidavit. TDCJ said Lyons’ inaccurate timesheets led to her demotion in 2012. “Therefore, it was not necessary for her to track her hours to the minute on a day-to-day basis. I also explained to her since she was an exempt employee it was not necessary for her to work a set shift.”
Fitzgerald explained that this was because of the erratic hours public information officers worked. Rather than minute-by-minute timekeeping, Fitzgerald told Lyons she was responsible for working a minimum of 40 hours per week and to mark her records for “eight hours in the office per day.”
The circuit court said that a “reasonable jury,” along with evidence showing her co-worker also failed to follow the timesheet policy, could conclude that public information officers were an exception to the rule. The court said that should’ve been debated by a jury.
If proven true, the court also said that could be seen by a jury as the “selective application of a facially neutral policy.” In other words, if the policy was equally applicable to all employees as TDCJ claimed, why were public information officers treated differently and why was Lyons treated differently than her co-workers?
But the court also said there is a factual question as to whether the timesheet violations were “the actual reason for her demotion or a pretext, TDCJ was not entitled to summary judgment.”
On the final question, there's very little doubt Lyons' firing over time sheets was mere pretext. She was public information officer at an agency which over the years has become more insular and opaque and, at root, would prefer the public had as little information about it as possible. As far as I can tell, she was fired for doing her job. Now perhaps a jury will get to decide. Or perhaps TDCJ will settle to prevent Ms. Lyons from taking the stand and revealing where all the (metaphorical) bodies are buried.



Congratulations Michelle! Now hit them with everything, and let the $$$ roll in!

Anonymous said...

As a former state employee, this is endemic across state organizations, not just TDCJ. There's also a specific state law that prohibits state employees from working from home. Don't see that one enforced much, either.