Documents show Denton settled whistleblower lawsuit

By Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe
Denton Record-Chronicle
Originally published May 26, 2014

Denton has settled a three-year-old whistleblower lawsuit from a former Denton Municipal Electric employee, according to documents obtained by the Denton Record-Chronicle.

Documents signed earlier this year showed the city agreed to pay Terry Jones $80,000 to settle the case. The city issued checks in March, including $5,000 to Jones for back pay and $60,000 in damages. Another $15,000 was issued to his attorney for court costs and legal fees.

Denton County court records show the city had tried since 2012 to get the case thrown out, claiming the court had no authority to decide the matter after Jones filed his suit in 2011. No findings were ever made on the merits of Jones’ claims against the city. According to city spokeswoman Lindsey Baker, an agreed order was filed in the case after both sides negotiated the settlement; the case is expected to be closed upon the judge’s review.

In the end, the city’s costs to hire an outside firm to represent the city in the case topped $215,000, although the staff originally estimated it would cost about $100,000, documents showed.

The last time the council was briefed on the matter was in October 2013.

Jones, a former superintendent who had worked at Denton Municipal Electric for five years, filed his claim under a state law that protects public employees from retaliation when they report official wrongdoing. Early on, he had refused to sign an agreement that would have offered him nearly $21,000 to resign, waive his right to sue and refrain from disparaging the city.

In court documents, Jones alleged that he was targeted for threatening to report violations of federal electric reliability standards and for complaining about favoritism in the workplace. Jones reported compliance problems in September 2010 to the Texas Reliability Entity, which enforces the federal standard.

The city placed him on leave that month and later fired him.

The Texas Reliability Entity investigated the complaints but its general counsel, Tammy Cooper, said this week that no public documents are available in the case.

Jones’ attorney, Susan Hutchison, did not return a call for comment.

The city had denied that it had violated whistleblower protections, saying Jones was disciplined for failing to train his employees and for engaging in inappropriate behavior although he had no record of formal discipline.

“The settlement agreement is a settlement of an employment dispute,” Baker said in an email. “It in no way is an admission of liability of unlawful conduct by any party.”