Retaliation for Refusing to Commit an Illegal Act in Texas – “Sabine Pilot”

Employment Attorney Houston

Serving Houston, Dallas, and Surrounding Areas

Texas is an employment at will state.  This means that under most circumstances, your employer is free to terminate you for any reason at all. One exception to Texas employment at will rule is called the “Sabine-Pilot” doctrine.  The Sabine Pilot exception to employment at will prohibits employers from discharging employees for the sole reason that the employee refuses to perform an illegal act.  “Sabine Pilot” is the abbreviated name of a case decided by the Supreme Court of Texas in 1985, Sabine Pilot Serv. v. Hauck (Tex. 1985). In that case, the Supreme Court recognized a narrow exception to the general “at will” doctrine of employment in Texas, and found that an at-will employee may sue the employer if the employee is fired for refusing to commit an illegal act.

The Supreme Court’s decision in Sabine Pilot,  made it clear that this exception to employment “at will” is a narrow exception. A Texas worker may have rights under Sabine Pilot, if the worker’s refusal to commit an illegal act must be the sole reason for termination. In addition, the illegal act that the worker was asked to commit must be subject to criminal penalties. It is important to note that the Sabine Pilot offers no protection for employees who report illegal activities of other employees and most courts have found that employees who are fired for inquiring about the legality of an action are not protected.

Remedies for Refusing to do Illegal Acts
An workers that successfully pursues a lawsuit under the Sabine Pilot cause of action may be entitled to actual damages that include 1) past lost wages and benefits, 2) future lost wages and benefits, and 3) damages for mental anguish. In addition, a prevailing worker in a wrongful termination lawsuit under Sabine Pilot may be entitled to punitive damages, prejudgment interest, and court costs.  In some instances, the court may order such for a prevailing plaintiff employee to be reinstated to his or her prior position.

What to Do if Your Employer Terminates You For Refusing to Commit an Illegal Act

Contact a Texas employment attorney immediately.   A lawsuit for wrongful termination under Sabine Pilot are subject to a two-year statute of limitations.

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