The Winkler County nurses trials began with two nurses, Anne Mitchell and Vicki Galle, filing an anonymous complaint with the Texas Medical Board regarding the substandard care provided by Dr. Rolando Arafiles Jr. When Arafiles learned of the complaint, he complained of harassment to a friend and former patient, who happened to be the county sheriff. The Sheriff investigated and went to the prosecutor, who filed felony charges against Mitchell and Galle for misuse of official information, a third-degree felony carrying the possibility of two to 10 years imprisonment and up to a $10,000 fine. Galle’s charges were eventually dropped and a jury found Mitchell not guilty.
The Texas Whistleblower Act provides legal protection from retaliation and legal rights to public employees who alert a law enforcement authority about certain violations of laws by the employing governmental entity or another public employee. However, the nurses were private employees and were not protected under the act. The nurses were, however, protected under another whistleblowing statute.
Shortly after the hospital terminated their employment because they filed the complaint to the Texas Medical Board, the nurses filed a federal lawsuit seeking injunctive and compensatory relief for illegal retaliation in violation of the Texas Nursing Practice Act. They also sought relief for violations of rights of free speech and due process. The Texas Nurses Practice Act is a whistleblower law to provide remedies for individuals who suffer retaliation for protected activities such as patient advocacy — e.g., reporting concerns about a doctor’s standard of care.
Note that while the Texas whistleblower statutes provide civil protection to those reporting misconduct, nothing protects a Texas whistleblower from a criminal action. The legal significance of whistleblowers facing criminal charges for exercising their statutory rights is profound.
If you have information about violations of laws and are concerned about repercussions if you report them, contact a Texas whistleblower attorney to discuss your case confidentially.