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Whistleblower Wins Fight Over Texas Agency's Anti-Discrimination/Anti-Retaliation Violations
State Civil Rights Agency Caught Red-Handed Violating Its Own Law
AUSTIN- The agency responsible for enforcing anti-discrimination and anti-retaliation laws has been caught red-handed and found in violation of the statute it is suppose to enforce.
After a week-long trial in the 353rd District Court of Travis County, a jury determined that the former Texas Commission on Human Rights, now known as the Texas Workforce Commission–Civil Rights Division, illegally retaliated against Marilou Morrison, a former employee of the agency, and returned a jury award totaling $900,000.
"Civil rights are being held hostage in Texas," said Austin attorneys Gary Bledsoe and Robert Notzon, who represented Morrison. "Ms. Morrison is a whistle blower and a hero, and the jury has vindicated her for her earlier admonitions that the fox was in charge of the hen house. It has been a privilege to represent such a fine person.”
She had contended that her supervisors, Vickie Covington and David Powell, retaliated against her by fabricating a story and making false accusations against her.
“Ms. Morrison has been vindicated,” Mr. Notzon said. “This jury spoke loudly and clearly that the allegations against her were lies, purely and simply. Ms. Morrison is, and has always been, the dedicated and selfless public servant that she was prior to her termination.”
Bledsoe added. “This is not just a victory for Marilou, but for the people of Texas. It is our hope that the Commission and the Legislature will look at this verdict and decide that major changes must be made at the Texas Commission on Human Rights which is now the Texas Workforce Commission, Civil Rights Division."
According to state information, this is the very agency tasked with investigating and enforcing the state's civil rights statute and was found to be engaged in conduct violative of that anti-discrimination/anti-retaliation statute in state law.
The case received a great deal of notoriety back in 2003 when Morrison was fired.
Morrison, a white female, had complained that the management of the TCHR was engaging in discrimination against its black and Hispanic employees, hiring unqualified white employees, an absence of cause findings of discrimination in its investigations, bigoted and insensitive remarks made about African-Americans at staff meetings, and retaliation against the employees who were attempting to bring these issues to the management's attention.
Morrison, having not received any reasonable response to her complaints, went on to complain directly to the Commissioners in a public meeting after the Commissioners had specifically promised her that she would not suffer retaliation for her communications to them.
One month later, despite having received the highest possible evaluation of “exceeds performance standards” in all categories, and a two-step merit increase just four months prior, Morrison was fired from her job for the false allegation that she had engaged in a “severe act of threat and intimidation” of her manager, who was 16 years her junior and trained in military combat.
During the trial, witnesses testified during trial that Powell had informed them that he did not want any cause cases during his tenure, and that the only investigator to find a cause case during his tenure, Kirven Powers, was terminated shortly after doing so.
TCHR had also fought Ms. Morrison's entitlement to unemployment benefits, and it refused her an appearance before the Commissioners to address her firing as provided by their own policies and the Texas Open Meetings Act.
Reacting to the jury verdict, Morrison stated, “I am so pleased that I finally had my day in court and that a jury of my peers heard the evidence and agreed with what I have known all this time, that I am a professional, that my complaints were real.”
The final award to include front pay, is still to be determined in the coming weeks by Judge Scott Ozmun.