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Supreme Court: School District Wins, Athletic Director Loses

Last week, in the case of Galveston Independent School District v. Jaco, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of Galveston Independent School District in a Whistleblower suit brought by its former Athletic Director.

Brent Jaco, Athletic Director for the district, was demoted after he reported a Ball High School football player’s violations to the University Interscholastic League (UIL). When he sued the GISD under the Whistleblower Act, it tried to have the case thrown out based upon “sovereign immunity.” The district claimed that there was no jurisdiction, saying Jaco “failed to make a good-faith report of a violation of law to an appropriate law-enforcement authority. . . .” The trial court and the court of appeals rejected that argument. The Supreme Court, however, disagreed, and ruled that the issue of proper reporting can be considered jurisdictional (rather just an issue of compliance with the Whistleblower Act), and returned the case to the court of appeals.

Citing its 2009 case of Lueck, “we held that ‘the elements of section 554.002(a) [the Whistleblower Act] can be considered to determine both jurisdiction and liability.’ Accordingly, whether the reporting of a violation of UIL rules and regulations to the UIL is a good-faith report of a violation of law to an appropriate law-enforcement authority is a jurisdictional question.” Thus, the question of how the violation was reported goes not only to the issue of whether Jaco met the requirements of the statute and therefore can win his case, but it further can be considered in whether there is “jurisdiction.” If there is not, the case will be thrown out before Jaco will be.

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