Michelle Lyons, the ousted TDCJ public information officer harassed and subsequently "constructively terminated" after emailing the Backgate Website, has won an appeal from the Texas Workforce Commission that allows her to receive past and future benefits from the agency. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) had blocked and fought against benefits for Lyons after the claim she quit state employment. Lyons, who has since filed a federal lawsuit against the state for their actions, then submitted proof that she was constructively terminated by TDCJ after bringing to light questions of errors in timekeeping within her executive department. After requesting public information via email to Ms.Lyons, she emailed the Backgate from her state computer briefly mentioning the issue and advising us that she was no longer the PIO for the agency.
Lyons, without our knowledge, had already been moved to another office and stripped of the PIO position after bringing up the time keeping issues. Her computer was being monitored at her newly assigned job by the upper administration and she was subsequently disciplined over the email sent to us merely stating that she was no longer PIO. The actions of the TDCJ at that point appeared to be retaliatory in nature from our prospective as it was clear they had a target on her back for bringing forth the issues.
After being charged with yet another disciplinary unfairly, Lyons decided to resign her position with the TDCJ. She applied for benefits through the Texas Workforce Commission (TWC) and was denied after a hearing was conducted with the TDCJ regarding her "resignation". TDCJ enlisted an attorney from the office of general counsel (OGC) to assist the state in fighting the request for benefits from Ms. Lyons. This is to our knowledge the first time TDCJ has enlisted an OGC attorney to fight against the agency paying unemployment benefits to an employee. All other hearings are fought by unit level administrators or department managers over the phone with the TWC. Why bring out the big guns unless your trying to prove a point, or use the denial as a means of retribution or retaliation? The TWC subsequently denied her claim. Ms. Lyons filed an appeal and the TWC board found that she did in fact meet the criteria for being constructively fired by the agency, and implemented her benefits.
The below official statement was that issued by the TWC regarding the case of Ms. Lyons;
“In late December 2011, the claimant was the employer’s Public Information Officer (PIO) and the manager of its Public Information Office. The claimant was a Manager IV in a salaried, exempt position. In mid-to-late December 2011, the employer concluded that the claimant was guilty of falsifying her timesheet. The claimant, as a salaried, exempt employee, was not eligible to receive overtime or compensatory time off. The claimant had been, throughout her tenure with the employer, simply indicated on her timesheets “8” hours worked for each day of the workweek. This was the manner in which the claimant was trained to prepare her timesheet. The claimant did this even if she worked more than 8 hours on a given day. It was not out of the ordinary for the claimant to work more than 40 hours in a given weed. The claimant stood to gain nothing monetarily by her consistent method of preparing her timesheet. The employer concluded that the claimant falsified her timesheet and emoted the claimant to a Manager II, which reduced her pay by approximately $14,000 per year. Pursuant to the employer’s guidelines, the claimant’s position meant that she was not eligible to grieve the disciplinary action taken against her. Nevertheless, the claimant protested that other department managers were preparing their timesheets in the same manner that she had and yet they were not disciplined. The employer opted not to pursue an investigation based on the claimant’s allegation.
The claimant acquired legal representation and filed an EEOC charge of sexual discrimination against the employer, alleging that those who were not disciplined were males. In March 2012, when the claimant subsequently acquired her “right to sue” authorization, the employer was notified of this fact. It was at about this time that the employer charged the claimant with “misconduct” for her alleged act of removing press release files from a shared computer directory. The claimant had moved these files to her individual directory. Consequently, the employer transferred the claimant out of the Public Information Office and to the employer’s Executive Services department. While in this latter department, the claimant was directed to forward all correspondence from the media to the employer’s new PIO. Rather than merely transferring such media emails to the new PIO, the claimant advised the e-mailers that she was no longer the employer’s PIO, and that the new PIO would be their future contact. The because the claimant did not simply forward the e-mails, the employer moved to discharge the claimant for failure to obey an order. The claimant ultimately opted to resign in lieu of being discharged. Prior to the disciplinary action taken against the claimant beginning in December 2011, the claimant had an unblemished service record with the employer.”
Ms. Lyons has been in contact with the Backgate and says she is doing fine, and has since gained employment elsewhere. Her lawsuit against the TDCJ is progressing. We will advise when the court sets a date on her case. We hope that justice prevails and that the taxpayers of Texas will voice concern over the millions of dollars of their money wasted to pay for lawsuits against the state where the state is clearly at fault. It's become too easy for administrators to create havoc on the job and then expect the state to cough up money to cover their short comings.