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Mesothelioma News After a Decade, Asbestos Suit May Make it to Texas Supreme Court

Monday, February 18th, 2013

A lawsuit by a school principal, alleging that he was fired after reporting the presence of asbestos at a Texas preschool, may finally make it to the Texas Supreme Court more than a decade after it was filed.

An article in the El Paso Times reports that the suit, which was filed in 2002 by Marcelino Franco, alleges that he lost his job shortly after he told the superintendent of the Ysleta Independent School District, as well as campus administrators and trustee, that the Robert F. Kennedy Pre-K Center was “riddled with asbestos”. Franco says he found asbestos at the school and immediately reported it to his supervisor in a “good faith” effort to comply with the EPA’s Asbestos Hazard Emergency Response Act (AHERA) and the Whistleblower Act.

Franco reports that his supervisor failed to respond to his pleas to address potential asbestos exposure at the school, which can cause serious respiratory diseases like mesothelioma. So, next he took his cause to former Superintendent Vernon Butler and district trustees, citing their lack of compliance with AHERA. That’s when he was suspended from his job. Later, he was reassigned to an elementary school but then fired.

The district claims that Franco, who requested damages in the amount of $500,000 for past and future pain, incurred wages, and to be reinstated to his former position, should have taken his concerns elsewhere, namely to the state EPA or to the governor. Nonetheless, district officials have stated that Franco wasn’t fired for his whistleblowing but rather for “failure to conduct necessary professional development and appraisal system teacher evaluations.” That’s not the case, Franco and his attorney maintain.

As Franco awaits his day at the Supreme Court, school officials continue to claim that the asbestos in the Pre-K Center is non-friable, meaning it’s in reasonable condition and not apt to release fibers into the air.

“The material containing [the asbestos] is covered and does not pose a threat to the students,” said Anthony Safi, attorney for the school district. He adds that the school has an asbestos management plan in place and that parents shouldn’t be concerned about exposure. He is seeking dismissal of Franco’s suit.