City Wins Lawsuit To Reverse Former Police Officer’s Unemployment Benefits
A former West U police officer is no longer receiving unemployment benefits, following a decision by the Harris County 157th District court.
The city of West University Place asked the court to review a decision made by the Texas Workforce Commission awarding former West U police officer Rosemarie Valdes unemployment benefits in January 2009.
Valdes was fired from the police department on Oct. 15, 2008 after allegedly reporting that a car hit her while she was directing traffic. She reported that the car knocked her off balance, and she fell on the hood with her feet coming off the ground. Video footage shows that the incident did not happen.
“It’s the right outcome,” West U Police Chief Ken Walker said. “I think the facts were clear.”
It is rare for a decision by the TWC regarding employment benefits to be reversed because the burden of proof is so high, Walker said.
“It’s a sad thing,” said David Donahue, legal administrator for Valdes’ appeal defense attorney Paul Aman. “If the evidence was there, but it’s not. It’s ludicrous.”
Valdes came to work for the city in 1996 as a dispatcher. She then worked as an animal control officer and became a West U police officer in 2000.
Valdes reported that on Oct. 20, 2007 she was directing traffic in the 4200 block of Bellaire Boulevard because ahead on the road, police were drawing their guns to pull over a stolen car.
“I did not want any citizens to be in the line of fire, or in harms way if the occupants of the stolen vehicle were armed,” Valdes wrote in an affidavit about one week after the accident.
Valdes told her supervisors that an elderly driver hit her in the leg while she was directing traffic.
[sic] “my knee is hurt… that old lady hit me with her car,” Valdes wrote to her supervisor in an officer chat log. “in case you were interested she knocked me onto her hood…. i hope i dented it.”
According to Valdes, she tried to get the driver to pull over, but the woman drove away.
The officer returned to the police station and her supervisor sent her to the West U fire station so paramedics could inspect her leg. A paramedic’s report said “the patients [sic] left knee does not have any bruising or swelling and no deformities.”
Valdes later went to Memorial Hermann Hospital and “she was diagnosed as having a sprained knee and ligament damage,” according to an email between police supervisors on the night of the accident.
As a result, Valdes was on “light duty” from Oct. 20, 2007 to Jan. 8, 2008.
The city sued Valdes and the TWC because that agency rejected the department’s determination that Valdes was fired for workplace misconduct.
According to the lawsuit, Valdes applied for unemployment benefits right after she was fired in October 2008 and TWC approved her payments. The city appealed that decision in November 2008 because it said Valdes was fired for workplace misconduct, making her ineligible for unemployment benefits. The TWC reversed its decision and took away the officer’s benefits.
But Valdes re-appealed in January 2009 and in March the TWC again reversed its decision and gave her the benefits. The city tried to appeal again, but the TWC denied the request.
The city then asked the Harris County 157th Judicial District Court to review the TWC’s decision. The lawsuit says the city fired Valdes because she allegedly violated a police department rule “requiring integrity and truthfulness.”
“Valdes’ actions in providing false and/or exaggerated statements to her employer concerning an on-the-job incident constituted misconduct,” the lawsuit said. “The Commission’s decision to the contrary was made without regard to the law or the facts and should be reversed.”
Both Valdes and the TWC filed answers with the court that deny the city’s allegations. The court reversed the decision by the TWC on May 7 and disqualified Valdes from receiving unemployment benefits.
The decision was final on June 8 when TWC withdrew its request for a new trial. Both Valdes and the TWC decided not to appeal the judgment.
Valdes won an appeal to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officers Standards, an agency that certifies police officers and departments, to remove the “dishonorable discharge” from her record in June.
The “dishonorable” designation hurts Valdes’ chance of continuing her career in law enforcement.
The city is currently seeking a judicial review of the Administrative Law Judge’s decision regarding Valdes’ request to correct her employment termination report, or F-5.