Raymondville school district to challenge verdict in whistleblower lawsuit

RAYMONDVILLE — After five years of court wranglings, a former Raymondville school district truancy officer’s lawsuit is heading back into the wheels of justice.

Last week, a Willacy County 197th state District court jury handed down a $200,000 judgment against the school district stemming from former truancy officer Ruben Ruiz’s 2018 Whistleblower lawsuit claiming Police Chief Oscar Gutierrez fired him after he reported a fellow officer’s alleged “oppression.”

Now, district officials are planning to challenge the jury’s verdict, standing by Gutierrez’s decision to fire Ruiz.

“The district will challenge this verdict through post-judgment motions and-or appeal,” officials stated in a press release Wednesday. “The district stands by the decision of its administration and the police chief to create an effective police force and denies any wrongdoing alleged by Mr. Ruiz.”

Lawsuit claims

In his lawsuit filed in 2018, Ruiz, who had worked for the district’s police department for five years, claimed Gutierrez fired him after he requested an investigation into what he described as a fellow officer’s “oppressive acts” against himself and another officer.

“At all times, (Ruiz) was a loyal, hardworking and dedicated employee who had met and exceeded (the school district’s) performance standards as established,” the lawsuit filed by attorney John Shergold states. “At no time during (Ruiz’s) employment had (he) been ever reprimanded or suspended from his duties.”

The lawsuit argues a fellow officer oppressed Ruiz after he criticized her.

“After (Ruiz) criticized (the officer), she used her power under color of her office or employment to officially oppress (him) and intentionally mistreated him further,” the lawsuit states. “Within eight calendar days from (Ruiz) filing his report to Chief Gutierrez for criminal investigation, (he) was fired from his job and retaliated against for whistle blowing.”

District’s appeals

In response to Ruiz’s lawsuit, district officials appealed the case to the Texas 13th Court of Appeals, which denied the appeal in 2021, Shergold said during an interview.

After officials appealed that decision, the Texas Supreme Court denied the district’s appeal last year, he said.

District challenging verdict

On Wednesday, officials issued their press release, stating they were standing by the decision to fire Ruiz while planning to challenge the verdict.

“No taxpayer money will be paid at this time and the district will move forward in overturning this ruling,” officials stated. “The district will work to change laws that prevent or create barriers to a local school district police force and the development of the security force under its jurisdiction.”

In response to the district’s statement, Shergold said the state’s Whistleblower Act aims to protect school district employees from retaliation.

“The state legislature created the Texas Whistleblower statute to protect school district employees such as Mr. Ruiz for filing a police report,” he said.

Meanwhile, district officials told students and parents the case did not impact campus security.

“Raymondville ISD will continue to make security and personnel decisions that protect the interest of everyone on school grounds,” their press release states. “We want to assure our students, families and community members that this case does not impact the quality of education we provide or the security protocols in place.”