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November 19, 2013
In a case that has changed the legal landscape and enhanced protections for public employees under the Georgia Whistleblower Protection Act, the Georgia Supreme Court confirmed that all government whistleblowers are protected under Georgia law.
Parks, Chesin & Walbert Senior Partner, Lee Parks, secured an important victory for Georgia employees under the Georgia Whistleblower Protection Act, O.C.G.A. § 45-1-4. In Colon, et al v. Fulton County, 2013 WL 6050390 (Ga. Sup. Case Nos. S12G1905, S12G1911, S12G1912, dec’d Nov. 18, 2013), the Supreme Court ruled that sovereign immunity did not shield local governments from damage claims for retaliating against employee-whistleblowers. The Court reasoned that “magic words” need not be used to create a waiver of sovereign immunity. A unanimous Supreme Court also rejected the Court of Appeals’ interpretation of the statute as only applying to whistleblower complaints of fraud, waste and abuse relating only to “state programs or operations.”
Gwendolyn Warren, Fulton County’s former Deputy County Manager, and Maria Colon, the Chief Investigative Officer of the County’s Office of Professional Standards, uncovered what they believed to be an illegal scheme by County employees to divert thousands of dollars in state and county grant funds for their own use. When Warren and Colon pushed the County to investigate, the Board of Commissioners refused. Then, when they took the case to Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, the County abruptly closed the Office of Professional Standards, fired Warren, and transferred Colon to a lower paying position. Warren and Colon filed separate lawsuits against the County for retaliation under the Whistleblower Act.
Meanwhile, the District Attorney indicted and prosecuted at least one employee based on the information Warren and Colon provided, recovering significant money for the County. You can see more media coverage of the case here. The case has been remanded for a jury trial.