Your employer cannot fire you for refusing to do an illegal act, unless you work for the government?

The Sabine Pilot doctrine provides a cause of action for an employee who was discharged for refusing to commit an illegal act. Sabine Pilot Service, Inc. v. Hauck, 687 S.W.2d 733 (Tex.1985).

Your employer cannot fire you if you refuse to do an illegal act. However, if you work for the government (city, state school district for example), then your employer enjoys sovereign and governmental immunity. See, e.g., Beaumont Independent School District v. Thomas, 2016 WL 348949 (Tex. App.—Beaumont)(public school teacher’s Sabine Pilot cause of action barred by immunity, because the employer school district was a public entity). Sovereign immunity is the law that states that you cannot sue the government unless the government gives you permission to sue it. If you work for the government they have not given you permission to sue them for refusing to do an illegal act. Thus, public employees must find their protection elsewhere, under the Texas Whistleblower Act, (which protects whistleblowing as defined in the Act, but not necessarily a refusal to commit an illegal act), under other specific whistleblower laws or civil service laws, or under the First Amendment.

When you work for the government as a public employee you have some additional rights that employees who work for private employees do not have, but unfortunately because of government immunity you also cannot sue your employer for refusing to do an illegal act. The courts have also held that the government as an employer is also protected if they fire you because you file for workers’ compensation. Private employers are prohibited from firing their employees for filing a workers’ compensation claim but not the government. However if your employer fires you because of you injuries that you sustained while working you may have a cause of action even you work for the government under the Americans With Disability Act or Chapter 21 of the Texas Labor Code. As an El Paso employment lawyer I have many potential clients who are shocked at the limits on lawsuits for wrongful termination; but you should always seek out a board certified employment lawyer if you feel that you have been discriminated against or if you have been injured on the job. Work injuries can lead to wrongful termination claims in some instances.

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