The office of Attorney General Greg Abbott — the Republican gubernatorial candidate — is appealing a whistleblower’s lawsuit and $1.2 million verdict, arguing that an El Paso jury was wrong when it decided that the agency fired an employee in retaliation for alerting supervisors to internal wrongdoing.
The jury awarded damages last year to Laura Rodriguez, a veteran employee of the agency who argued that she was fired after blowing the whistle on alleged insurance fraud by a coworker. Abbott’s office says there is a “complete lack of evidence” that she was fired in retaliation.
It is the second whistleblower lawsuit against the office of Abbott to grab recent headlines. It comes amid a pitched political battle between Abbott and state Sen. Wendy Davis, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, who has made the whistleblower cases a campaign issue.
In the El Paso case, an appeal that Abbott’s office filed last week outlines Rodriguez’s allegations. Rodriguez was working as an office manager in December 2008 in the attorney general’s El Paso Child Support Division when she discovered potential insurance fraud in her office, according to court documents. She learned that her executive assistant and longtime friend, Debra Galindo, was requesting to add a child as a dependent to her state-provided insurance plan. In her request, Galindo claimed that the child in question was her niece, but Rodriguez knew that the child was actually the girlfriend of Galindo’s son. Rodriguez reported the matter to an ethics adviser in the AG’s office on Jan. 5, 2009, and Galindo was suspended for five days, according to the legal filings.
Rodriguez was fired on April 8, 2010. Less than a month later, she filed a lawsuit against Abbott’s office under the Texas Whistleblower Act, arguing that she was terminated because she had reported her coworker’s misconduct. The AG’s office contended that Rodriguez was fired for many reasons, including a “significant backlog” in her office. The state lawyers argued that there was insufficient evidence to link the firing to Rodriguez’s whistleblowing.