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Labor Department sues Peterbilt, alleges Denton whistleblower was fired
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The U.S. Department of Labor on Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit against Paccar Inc., which does business as Peterbilt Motor Co., alleging the company last year fired an employee concerned about COVID-19.

An investigation by the agency found the Denton-based truck manufacturer violated federal whisteblower protections by retaliating against an employee who raised concerns about exposure to the virus in March 2020. The employee raised concerns with a supervisor at the Denton facility about working within six feet of other workers in the plant. The supervisor told the employee the workspace would be cleaned, but after Paccar learned the employee had expressed concerns about the company’s response publicly, the employee was fired, according to a news release announcing the suit.

Before being fired, the employee reached out to the Denton Chamber of Commerce to ask what action was being taken to address COVID-19 concerns at the Peterbilt plant, which employs roughly 2,000 people. The chamber told the employee the question was best directed to Peterbilt management and forwarded his email to said management, according to federal court documents. Peterbilt fired the employee the next day, stating he had disclosed trade secret information in his email to the chamber, and that he was also being fired for poor performance.

“Both stated reasons were untrue and are a pretext for unlawful retaliation for [the former employee’s] expressing his valid complaints related to workplace safety and COVID-19 at defendant’s facility and his attempts to ensure a safe workplace,” the complaint reads.

The employee filed a retaliation complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in April 2020.

The Denton Chamber of Commerce declined to comment for this article, citing the active lawsuit.

The suit filed by the Labor Department’s Office of the Solicitor asks the court to order the company to comply with anti-retaliation provisions in the Occupational Safety and Health Act; reinstate the employee to his former employment position with the company; pay the employee back wages, interest, compensatory and punitive damages and other remedies; and expunge the employee’s personnel record.

The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas. It does not list how much in back wages and other damages the plaintiff seeks.

“Our investigation found that PACCAR terminated a worker for reporting their concerns that the company’s response to the dangers of the coronavirus would not prevent its spread,” Regional OSHA Administrator Eric S. Harbin said in the release. “Every worker has the right to report safety concerns of any kind without fear of retaliation.”

Peterbilt is Denton’s largest private employer. Paccar representatives declined to comment, and calls to Peterbilt were not returned by Wednesday evening.

Paccar suit, redacted

A couple show their child the brightly colored leaves of a Chinese pistache tree along Windsor Drive on Wednesday.

Denton attorney resigns from practicing law; civil malpractice suit now closed
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The civil cases regarding malpractice filed against a Denton attorney by the State Bar of Texas were closed Monday after he resigned his bar license in lieu of discipline, court records indicate.

Rocky Haire of Denton was under investigation by the Texas Commission for Lawyer Discipline for allegedly mishandling and abusing client funds in 19 such cases, with another two cited in a recent filing. While the civil suit was ongoing, the State Bar of Texas sought Haire’s license suspension because it believed he posed a threat to clients and/or prospective clients if he continued practicing, records show.

Now that he’s no longer an active attorney, the case is closed.

“A resignation in lieu of discipline is basically a voluntary disbarment, and he no longer has a law license,” Claire Reynolds, a spokesperson for the state bar’s Chief Disciplinary Counsel, said in an email Wednesday.

David Hutton, an attorney for Haire, said in October that Haire filed in early September to surrender his license because he was tired of practicing law. Hutton said the civil malpractice case didn’t influence his decision.

Reynolds said clients who had money stolen from Haire have a few options available to them.

“Clients who had money stolen … should first send a letter to his office requesting whatever money they believe is due to them,” Reynolds said. “They might also try contacting law enforcement. They can also apply to the Client Security Fund.”

Clients can apply to the fund through the State Bar of Texas’ website. Eligible clients include those who filed grievances against their attorney, and the attorneys received disciplinary action; any whose attorney has died; or any whose attorney has been disbarred or resigned from practicing.

Reynolds said this isn’t a quick process.

“It’s entirely separate from the disciplinary process, and each and every application must be reviewed and voted upon by a team of volunteer State Bar of Texas board members,” she said. “The money comes from the bar dues of all of the lawyers in Texas. We don’t have a really good way to make a resigned or disbarred attorney pay back the money they owe because, once they resign or are disbarred, we no longer have the one tool in our pocket to enforce compliance: the threat of taking away a law license. But people should absolutely apply if they believe they are owed money.”

Hutton said that while these cases are closed, he and Haire are still working through others.

“We’re still dealing with some civil cases, their attorneys and their clients and their claims,” Hutton said. “And we’re still dealing with [the county’s] specially assigned prosecutor. … We’re trying to deal with one area at a time as best we can.”

Texas board rejects proposed sex ed materials for middle and high schoolers

The ongoing battle over “inappropriate content” in Texas public schools raged on Tuesday as the State Board of Education declined to preliminarily adopt middle and high school health instructional materials that addressed such topics as contraception, gender identity and self-harm.

The decision could leave school districts to fend for themselves on how best to address new health curriculum standards approved just a year ago — in a less fevered environment.

Last November, the State Board of Education approved new curriculum standards — called the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, or TEKS — that included lessons on birth control, not just abstinence, starting in middle school.

In that same process, the board declined to include standards that would have defined and taught gender identity and sexual orientation.

“It feels like we’re about to leave a lot of districts in the dark with this,” said board member Aicha Davis, D-Dallas.

School systems, leaders and elected bodies have been under heightened scrutiny over the past year as conservative advocates and constituents stoked fights on library materials, mask mandates and the perceived infusion of critical race theory into lessons.

The 15-member state board voted along party lines to reject health materials crafted for middle school students from publishers Lessonbee Inc. and Human Kinetics.

Several board members — and a large portion of those who spoke Tuesday — objected to how those texts presented to sixth- to eighth-graders topics such as gender identity, abortion, masturbation and sexual arousal.

During public testimony, Mary Elizabeth Castle, a senior policy advisor for family-values nonprofit organization Texas Values, said materials from Lessonbee Inc. and Human Kinetics went beyond the scope of the TEKS changes.

“They encourage sexual activity at a young age; they mentioned consent, when we agreed on refusal skills in the TEKS. And then they had a topic of gender identity and sexual orientation that was not agreed on by the board,” Castle said.

On a 7-7 tie, the state board also failed to offer approval to middle school and high school content from publisher Goodheart-Wilcox, despite an assessment from SBOE staff that showed that the materials addressed 100% of TEKS expectations for students and teachers.

Only one set of materials was approved by the board, on a 7-6 vote: health education products for K-5 students from publisher QuaverEd. Those materials didn’t address any of the sex ed standards, instead focusing on items such as mental health, hygiene and responsible decision making.

Several of those who spoke in public testimony, however, objected to the online nature of the material from QuaverEd. Some worried that students would be tracked using this data; others said that working collaboratively with other students on sensitive concepts such as mental health would lead to bullying.

Deliberation from state board members was relatively brief, compared with four hours of public testimony on the materials.

Pat Hardy, R-Fort Worth, voted against all of the secondary-grade materials, saying that they “were not appropriate as they stand right now.” But she hinted that she might change her mind on the Goodheart-Wilcox materials if publishers moved to alter the content to indicate a preference for abstinence over birth control.

Publishers have until 5 p.m. Wednesday to make changes in response to questions raised by the committee or in public comment. The board will take a final vote on the materials on Friday.

Jay Johnson, R-Pampa, said he couldn’t give approval to any of the materials, given the position of his constituents.

“I probably couldn’t get seated in a restaurant or have my cleaning picked up,” Johnson said.

Will Hickman, R-Houston, was one of the few swing voters, offering tepid support for QuaverEd and Goodheart-Wilcox’s content.

“I don’t think we should have a vacuum where we adopt nothing,” he said. “These are, again, not perfect, but I think they’re good. And like we’ve said many times, the school districts can adopt these or not, but it’s just providing an option.”

Lawrence Allen Jr., D-Richmond, said by voting down all of the middle and high school content, the state board was unintentionally providing tacit approval to Goodheart-Wilcox’s material, since it was best aligned to the new state standards. Districts are free to select which materials they use.

While Hardy and others suggested that districts could be able to craft their own curriculum based on the TEKS, Davis — from Dallas — said that many smaller districts would lack the personnel to accomplish such a task.

In Texas, school districts aren’t required to teach sex education in health courses. Health classes were removed as a high school graduation requirement in 2009.

School districts can offer instruction in sex ed, after consultation with a school board-created health advisory committee. But a recent state law passed in 2021 requires that parents receive a “detailed description” of the content, requiring districts to get parental consent ability before providing sex ed instruction.

The 2020 TEKS revisions — upending standards put in place in 1997 — would have given school districts cover to teach beyond abstinence-only standards that had previously existed.

Texas has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the country, with approximately 24 out of every 1,000 girls ages 15-19 giving birth. As of 2016, the state had the highest level of repeat births among teens.

Denton man pleads guilty to beating child to death in 2018, seeking jury punishment
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A Denton man accused of murder in the death of his infant son pleaded guilty Monday and is seeking punishment from a jury.

Emilio Morales, 27, was arrested in 2018 on a count of injury to a child, a first-degree felony, a day after his child’s death at a home in the 2900 block of Desert Drive.

Following three years of court appearances and jury trial postponements, Morales pleaded guilty Monday to murder. There is no plea bargain, and instead, a jury will decide Morales’ punishment, a Denton County District Attorney’s spokesperson said.

He now will face up to life in prison and a fine up to $2,000.

Denton police and paramedics went to the home around 7:09 a.m. on June 24, 2018, in response to a report of an unconscious person.

They found a deceased nearly 2-month-old infant and discovered he had several bruises and abrasions. The following day during an interview at the Denton Police Department, police said Morales admitted to striking his child.

Police at the time said they interviewed Morales after a medical examiner confirmed the boy’s injuries were consistent with assault. Morales then was arrested and charged with injury to a child.

The Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office on June 26, 2018, confirmed the child’s cause of death was blunt force injuries to the head and ruled his death a homicide.

Denton police at the time of the arrest said they weren’t going to charge for murder, but Morales was later indicted by a Denton County grand jury on one count of murder.

Allison Beckwith, a spokesperson for the department, said investigators at the time chose not to charge Morales with murder because injury to a child and murder are both first-degree felonies. She said a grand jury instead decided to charge him with murder when they were presented with the case in the fall of 2018.

Morales’ attorney, Tim Cole, said in a phone call Wednesday morning that the case may conclude Thursday afternoon.

Morales had been detained at the Denton County Jail from June 26, 2018, until Nov. 8, 2021, when he posted bail of $500,000.