Former Airport Employee’s Federal Retaliatory Discharge Claims Fail, but Georgia Whistleblower Claims Dismissed Without Prejudice

There are laws in place to protect public employees who do the right thing and report wrongdoing in the workplace, only to find themselves reprimanded, demoted, or even terminated. While these laws will not necessarily keep retaliatory actions from happening, they do provide the basis for an Atlanta retaliatory discharge lawsuit, along with several important remedies that can be of benefit to the plaintiff.

Each case must be tried on it’s own merits, of course, but some commonly available potential outcomes include restoration of the employee’s job and/or benefits, back pay, and/or special damages. The first step in seeking justice in a retaliatory discharge case is to contact an attorney who can help you understand the laws that protect public employees and explain the steps that are necessary in order to assert one’s legal rights thereunder.

Facts of the Case

In a recent federal case, the plaintiff was former director of administration and finance and assistant executive director for the defendant airport commission. His employment began in 2008 and ended in 2017. He filed suit against the commission, its executive director (who was sued in both in individual and official capacities), and the city in which the airport was located, asserting a claim for retaliatory discharge. According to the plaintiff, he had reported several violations of law and policy by the commission. These included ongoing violations of the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program, as well as harassment and discrimination against a fellow employee.

The plaintiff’s suit was originally filed in state court in May 2018 but was later removed to federal court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The plaintiff’s allegations included claims that the defendants retaliated against him for engaging in speech protected by the First Amendment, that defendants retaliated against him because he engaged in activity protected by the Georgia Whistleblower act, O.C.G.A. §45-1-4(a)(2)-(3), and that he faced retaliation from the defendants because he engaged in activities protected by the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994, 38 U.S.C. § 4311(b). The defendants filed motions seeking summary judgment.

Decision of the Court

The United States District Court for the Southern District of Georgia, Savannah Division granted the defendants’ motions as to the federal claims filed by the plaintiff. The court began its analysis with the defendant’s city’s argument the plaintiff’s claims against it failed because the city was not the plaintiff’s employer and did not have control over the plaintiff’s employment. The court agreed with the city on this point, holding that it would not usurp the intentions of state and local lawmakers by imposing liability on the city for an area expressly delegated to the commission. The court also agreed that the city could not be held liable for the other commission’s actions under a respondeat superior theory.

With regard to the plaintiff’s claims against the defendant commission and the defendant director, the court held that the plaintiff had failed to present evidence that he had engaged in protected speech or protected activity and that, thus, the commission and director were entitled to dismissal of the plaintiff’s federal law claims against them. As to the plaintiff’s remaining state law claims under the Georgia Whistleblower Act, the court dismissed these without prejudice, thereby allowing him to refile these claims in state court if he chose to do so after dismissal of his federal claims deprived the federal court of jurisdiction.

Have Questions for an Atlanta Employment Law Attorney?

If you have been penalized for reporting wrongful conduct in the workplace, you should talk to an Atlanta whistleblower protection attorney. Attorney John Mays and other attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert can assist you with this type of claim. For an appointment, contact us through this website or phone us at 404-873-8048. Our lines are open 24/7.

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