Denton Energy Center

Denton Energy Center

The Texas Attorney General’s Office has intervened in a wrongful termination case filed three years ago by two former Denton Municipal Electric employees.

In a 16-page response filed last week in the 68th District Court in Dallas, the state’s attorneys defended a state cap that would limit any damages paid to former employees Michael Grim and Jim Maynard. The state’s filing followed a challenge by the pair’s attorneys, who claim the cap is not constitutional.

Back in February, a Dallas jury sided with the two men and their wrongful termination claim and awarded them nearly $4 million in damages. But because they sued under the Texas Whistleblower Act, the award is limited by law to $250,000.

Attorneys for the two men said the cap violates the state constitution in three ways: traditional legal principles (known as common law), as a special law, and through a state constitutional amendment for medical malpractice claims that applies.

But state attorneys disagreed. In their response, they argued that the Texas Whistleblower Act had no precedent in common law and was written for the modern need to protect public employees who report wrongdoing. The Texas Legislature adopted the cap to both encourage public employees to come forward and to acknowledge government immunity.

In other words, a large jury award wouldn’t necessarily punish wrongdoers. Instead, it would hamper government functions by forcing cities to spend resources defending lawsuits and leave taxpayers holding the bag, state attorneys wrote.

When Grim and Maynard first filed their lawsuit in July 2017, they claimed they had been fired after reporting that a council member leaked confidential information about the Denton Energy Center deal to the newspaper. The newspaper story ran in September 2016. The two employees were fired in July 2017.

According to city spokesperson Ryan Adams, the city continues to maintain that it did nothing wrong in employing, and firing, Grim and Maynard.

“Nevertheless, if any liability were imposed, the Attorney General’s action supports the position of the City of Denton that monetary damages are limited by statute,” Adams said in a prepared statement.

Attorneys for Grim and Maynard, the Kilgore law firm in Dallas, did not return a request for comment Monday afternoon.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881 and via Twitter at @phwolfeDRC.

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