Sabine Pilot

A Sabine Pilot Employment Attorney at the Pursley Law Firm will assist you to determine whether you were wrongfully terminated by your employer. The Pursley Law Firm has the ability to pursue claims for employees all over Texas; especially in the cities of Dallas, Houston, Austin, Fort Worth, San Antonio, and El Paso. There is an experienced Sabine Pilot Employment lawyer ready to discuss your case with you.

The Texas Supreme Court first recognized a non-statutory and non-contractual public policy exception to the at-will employment doctrine in the original Sabine Pilot case. The details of the Sabine Pilot case were: the employer asked the plaintiff to discharge the bilge waste from a ship into the environmentally protected waters of a channel. The plaintiff refused. Federal criminal law prohibited the discharging of bilge waste, and the plaintiff was aware of this fact at the time of his refusal to carry out the employer's orders. The employer fired the plaintiff because he refused to follow the directive. The Texas Supreme Court held that discharging the plaintiff for refusing to perform an illegal act was against the public policy of the state. The language used in the court's opinion makes clear that Sabine Pilot is a "very narrow exception to the employment-at-will [rule]" in Texas. The burden is on the plaintiff to prove that the only reason for the wrongful termination was the refusal to perform an illegal act.

The Sabine Pilot doctrine is the only public policy exception to the rule of at-will employment recognized by Texas courts. Plaintiffs continue to seek to expand the public policy exception to employment at-will beyond the Sabine Pilot case, but without success. In another case, an appellate court rejected the plaintiff's argument that counseling an employee, pregnant with a manager's child, not to have an abortion was a protected activity and discharge for such activity violated public policy. The court also refused to protect an employee allegedly terminated for refusing to quit volunteer work with the AIDS Foundation. Additionally, termination for refusing to take a polygraph test has been held not to contravene public policy.

Sabine Pilot established a narrow, public policy exception to the employment at-will doctrine. The exception applies only where the employee can prove that he or she was (i) discharged or otherwise adversely affected for (ii) the sole reason that he or she (iii) refused to perform an illegal act. Under Title VII, a plaintiff prevails on the issue of liability if unlawful discrimination was a "motivating factor" in the employer's conduct even if other legitimate causes also played a role. In contrast, the Texas Supreme Court decided the Sabine Pilot case on the ground that retaliation was the sole cause of discharge.

In 1998, the Houston Court of Appeals ruled that an employee who resigns rather than perform an illegal act on behalf of his employer may maintain a Sabine Pilot constructive discharge claim. In the first case of this nature, an engineer was asked by his employer to load certain software onto personal computers. Believing that this violated copyright laws, he refused. His pay was subsequently reduced because he would not perform the duties asked of him, and he was demoted. Shortly thereafter, he quit. He sued his former employer, claiming he was constructively discharged in violation of the Sabine Pilot doctrine. Recognizing that constructive discharge is a legal substitute for an actual discharge and that it has been applied beyond the Title VII context, the court found the engineer's claim to be valid and reversed the lower court's grant of summary judgment. "We doubt the Texas Supreme Court intended to permit employers to avoid liability by coercing resignations from, rather than firing, their employees who refused to break the law," concluded the court. The Houston Court of Appeals in 1999 confirmed that the Nguyen logic extended to public employees. As well when the court addressed constructive discharge claims brought not under the common law Sabine Pilot doctrine but rather under the Whistleblower Act, Tex. Gov't C. 554.001(3). The defendants argued that a constructive discharge was not covered by the statutory whistleblower act because it only applied to "adverse personnel action" which the defendants argued did not include constructive discharge. Relying on the precedent previously set, the court rejected that argument concluding that "[t]he legislature could not have intended to provide a cause of action to employees who were fired for reporting violations of the law, while at the same time excluding employees who were coerced into resigning."

The court has basically upheld that the Sabine Pilot law should protect employees that were wrongfully terminated for: refusing to violate environmental laws, refusing to falsify records, refusing to refrain from reporting misconduct, refusal to commit criminal act or make criminal misrepresentations, and investigating or questioning the employer's instructions. If you have been wrongfully discharged for any of these reasons, then you may have a right to damages and protection under the law. An experienced employment attorney can go over your case with you and assist you in your course of action.

Do I Have A Sabine Pilot Discharge Case in Texas?

Wrongful Termination Information Center

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