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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Richard Vela worked for 18 years as an electrician. In 2001, when he was working for Houston’s Aviation Department, Vela began working on the new Southwest Airlines concourse at Hobby Airport. Shortly after beginning his work at Hobby, Vela and a co-worker attended a lighting conference in San Diego. They submitted travel expense reports when they returned, but the city found that the reports had been altered, and so the city rejected the reports. In May 2002, Vela noticed that electrical subcontractors were installing an “MC cable,” which Vela thought was an inferior type of cable that violated the building code, presented a serious safety violation and resulted in fraud against the city. Vela asked during another training class if he would be in trouble if he did something illegal if he was only following his manager’s orders. He also said a manager told him to do whatever was necessary to make sure the concourse project got completed on time. Vela later reported to the Houston Airport System human resources manager that he thought the use of the MC cables was illegal. The HR manager told he should report any illegal activity or wrongdoing to the Office of the Inspector General. Vela did not do so. The city indefinitely suspended Vela in July 2002 for falsifying city records (the expense report from 2001) and by altering mail receipts and therby failing to adhere to city policies. Vela filed a whistle-blower action against the city, saying he was wrongly terminated for reporting what he in good faith believed to be violations of law. The trial court granted the city’s motion for summary judgment. HOLDING:Affirmed. The court sets out the five elements necessary to establish a whistle-blower action under Government Code 554.001-.009: 1. a public employee; 2. makes a report in good faith; 3. of a violation of law; 4. to an appropriate law enforcement authority; and 5. suffers retaliation for making the report. The court says Vela cannot meet the last three requirements. As to the third element, the court finds that Vela’s belief that use of the MC cable instead of different type of cable was, at best, a report of a contract violation, not something illegal. The court then rejects Vela’s assertion that he had a good-faith belief that the use of the MC cable was illegal. A reasonably prudent employee in similar circumstances � that is, someone with nearly 18 years of experience as an electrical supervisor and superintendent � would not have thought that use of the MC cable was illegal. Further, Vela did not report this alleged violation to an appropriate law enforcement authority. Though Vela made a report to the HR manager, the HR manager told Vela to report his suspicions to the inspector general, which Vela did not do. “Vela could not have acted in good faith by not filing a report with the OIG when he had actual knowledge that it was the appropriate law enforcement authority for reporting the use of the MC cable,” the court writes. Finally, Vela cannot prove that he was retaliated against for making his report. Even assuming that Vela’s accusation was true and that he reported it to the proper authority, he still cannot get around the fact that the city said it was firing Vela for the problems surrounding his expense reports and altered receipts. The court notes that Vela admits that the co-worker who went on the San Diego trip with him was fired for the same reason. OPINION:George C. Hanks, J.; Taft, Keyes and Hanks, JJ.

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