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Texas Supreme Court History: Sabine Pilot Cases and Rulings

Although it may seem outdated in the modern era, state and local San Antonio employment laws recognize the power of the employer to terminate employment at any time and for any reason. However, it is also true that every worker in San Antonio should be able to go to work without fear of wrongful termination or unfair treatment.

What happens if your employer instructs you to cover their tracks financially, or fix numbers related to profits and earnings? And what if, under threat of termination, you refuse? Instances of employer retaliation can put your job and your family’s financial future in danger. If this situation sounds familiar to you, call a San Antonio lawyer today.

Wrongful Termination and Sabine Pilot Cases in Texas

Over the past 30 years, Texas employment law has made a few notable exceptions to its at-will employment policy. One of these is known as the Sabine Pilot rule, which states that employees can refuse an illegal order from their superiors. If this refusal is the sole reason for termination, the employee may be able to pursue legal action. In the past decades of Texas Supreme Court history, a few Sabine Pilot cases and rulings stand out. Some of the recent landmark Sabine Pilot claims in Texas include:

Hauck v. Sabine Pilot

In the 1985 case that produced the Sabine Pilot exception, Michael Hauck, a deckhand, successfully sued his former employer, Sabine Pilot. Hauck’s superiors instructed him to pump the bilge from his ship into the nearby water. He noticed signs clearly stating that this action was illegal, so he refused the order. After he declined, Sabine Pilot fired him.

When Hauck contested his termination in court, he argued that he lost his job solely for his refusal to comply with a potentially illegal order. Sabine Pilot asserted that they fired him other “derelictions of duty,” including his unwillingness to follow other menial orders, like swabbing the deck. Eventually, however, the judge ruled that Sabine Pilot fired Hauck solely for his refusal to comply with the unlawful directive. The Sabine Pilot rule was born, and further examples in Texas Supreme Court history of Sabine Pilot cases and rulings would follow.

Peine v. HIT Services

In 2007, HIT Services hired Joseph Peine as an accountant and chief financial officer. Before long, he realized his superiors wanted him to fix the company’s financials and falsify information related to its earnings.

Mr. Peine recognized the potential criminality and financial dishonesty of these orders and refused. However, HIT Services did not fire him right away. By the time his bosses got around to terminating him, Peine had gone to a reporter, thus breaching his employee confidentiality agreement.

Because of this breach, HIT argued that Peine’s firing has nothing to do with refusing to alter the financial reports. If Peine hadn’t gone to a reporter, he might have been able to argue otherwise in court. Peine lost his case.

Watkins v. Rolling Frito-Lay

In 2012, Dallas employee Melvin Watkins was working as a sales representative for Frito-Lay. In 2014, Frito-Lay fired him for refusing (multiple times) an order from his superiors to fix company financials and purposely short inventory statistics.

After Watkins refused to commit any illegal or criminal activity related to shorting shipment supply numbers, he failed to show up for work for three consecutive shifts. That’s where the validity of his Sabine Pilot argument ended.

In front of a judge, Watkins was unable to argue that Frito-Lay illegally fired him without cause. Frito-Lay claimed that other factors, including his failure to show up to work three times, influenced their decision to terminate his employment.

Contact Our San Antonio Employment Lawyers Today

Throughout Texas Supreme Court history, Sabine Pilot cases and rulings continue to prove that there are always exceptions to any rule. At Carabin Shaw, our wrongful termination lawyers in San Antonio believe that everyone should have a chance to pursue compensation if their employer wrongfully fired them.

Our San Antonio employment lawyers will do everything it takes to see you compensated fully and fairly. We offer all potential clients a free initial consultation. Call us today at our San Antonio attorney’s offices at 210-222-2288, or anytime toll-free at 800-862-1260.

Visits with the Attorney are by appointment only. Main office San Antonio, Texas.

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