On Feb. 24, Pauline Higgins, former general counsel of the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (Metro), announced she has settled her defamation and whistleblower suit. Higgins, who was fired on Feb. 23, 2010, sued Metro and Frank Wilson, the agency’s former president and CEO. Higgins, now a partner in Lam, Lyn & Philip in Houston, says she settled because Metro agreed to apologize to her as part of the settlement. She says her goal in filing the suit was to restore her reputation, not collect monetary damages from a taxpayer-funded agency. In the settlement, Metro agreed to pay up to $100,000 to cover Higgins’ legal fees and expenses. In a written statement, Metro CEO George Greanias writes that he is grateful Higgins agreed to forgo personal monetary damages. In the statement, Metro chairman Gilbert Garcia writes, “The new Metro regrets and disapproves of the inaccurate statements made about Ms. Higgins in the media regarding her departure from Metro. We appreciate Ms. Higgins’ efforts to help us conclude this legacy issue so that we can concentrate on safe, reliable, convenient and affordable public transit and mobility services that our customers and taxpayers deserve.” In her first amended petition in Higgins v. Wilson, et al., Higgins alleged Metro fired her because she had complained to Houston Mayor Annise Parker that the agency wasn’t complying with state laws governing document retention. She also alleged that Wilson had defamed her with statements he made at press conferences and by providing a newspaper editorial board with “questionable documents from an alleged ‘investigation’ into Higgins’ management practices.” Higgins sued Wilson alleging defamation and Metro alleging it violated the Texas Whistleblower Act; the defendants denied the allegations. In an interview, Higgins says she was “totally blindsided” by her firing and her job search was harmed by untrue media reports about her. Joseph Ahmad, a shareholder in Ahmad, Zavitsanos & Anaipakos in Houston who represents Higgins along with Rusty Hardin of Houston’s Rusty Hardin & Associates, says the settlement with Metro also covers former CEO Wilson. Robin Gibbs, a partner in Gibbs & Bruns in Houston who represents Wilson in the suit, did not return a telephone message.
-- Brenda Sapino Jeffreys