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Whistleblower trial ends in settlement

By Brandon Evans | Published Saturday, June 15, 2013

A jury trial in Decatur ended early Wednesday morning after a settlement agreement was reached between Joseph Palazzolo and Fort Worth ISD.

Palazzolo claimed he was wrongfully terminated after he reported misdeeds by officials at Arlington Heights High School back in the summer of 2010. Allegations included mistreatment of minorities and altering attendance records.

Palazzolo sued under Texas’ “whistleblower” laws that forbid retaliation against an employee for exposing wrongdoing.

According to court records, Fort Worth ISD must now pay Palazzolo and his attorney $300,000 and give Palazzolo a job with the district. He will go to work in central administration as an educational logistics administrator.

In turn, Palazzolo must also drop all claims or pending lawsuits against the district.

Before it is official, the settlement must be approved by the Fort Worth ISD Board of Trustees.

The trial, which was moved to Decatur because of crowded dockets in Fort Worth, began Tuesday afternoon after a lengthy jury selection. But it never got past opening arguments.

Palazzolo’s attorney, Jason Smith, alleged his client was wrongfully fired and should be protected as a whistleblower. In his opening statement, Fort Worth ISD’s attorney argued that Palazzolo was justly fired for violating district policies.

The two sides reached a settlement before the trial started its second day.

State law allows cases involving schools districts to be tried in an adjacent county as long as they are within the same council of governments region.

Carol Ann Carson also served as an attorney for Palazzolo in the case.

“I think whistleblower cases are extremely difficult to prosecute or go forward with because so often it is a case of he said/she said,” Carson said. “But the outcome of this case serves as a good reminder that there are laws in place and people can be protected for doing the right thing. This is a good reminder to school districts and employers.”

“In a Democracy, the truth of it is, if someone doesn’t speak up when they need to, change is never made,” said Judge John Fostel, who presided over the short-lived case in the 271st District Court.

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