The Georgia Court of Appeals Revives the Case of a Whistleblower Who Exposed Alleged Impropriety at the County Jail

One of the more stressful things you can encounter at work is discovering hidden wrongdoing by others. Even more stressful is when you’re a public employee and it becomes incumbent upon you to disclose that misconduct. If you’ve done so and you’ve been fired as a result, you have suffered a wrongful termination in violation of the Georgia Whistleblower Act. Contact a knowledgeable Atlanta whistleblower protection lawyer right away to begin taking the necessary steps.

A.B., an employee of a north Georgia sheriff’s department from 2001 until his firing in July 2014, alleged that he was one of those wrongfully terminated whistleblowers. That 2014 termination was preceded by a January 2014 incident where a jail officer used excessive force against an inmate. A.B., the supervisor on duty, prepared a written report. Concerned the excessive force incident might get swept under the rug, he also reported the occurrence to a lieutenant with the Office of Professional Standards (OPS).

Just a few weeks later, A.B.’s supervisor disciplined him, ostensibly for “neglect of duty.” Allegedly, the supervisor cautioned him never to contact OPS because “we’re going to take care of our own in the jail.”

A.B. also took action due to what he believed to be “civil rights violations” that “were occurring in the jail and that… were not being referred to the District Attorney for possible prosecution.” Additionally, A.B. investigated a report that doctors at the jail were recycling “inmate medication by giving medicine prescribed to one inmate to another inmate.”

Just a few days after the election of a new sheriff on July 22, 2014, A.B. was fired. Based on that, he sued for wrongful termination in violation of the Georgia Whistleblower Act.

The Four Essential Pieces of a Successful Georgia Whistleblower Act CaseĀ 

To win a wrongful termination action under the whistleblower statute, you need four essential things. These include proof that: (1) you were a public employee, (2) you made a “protected disclosure or objection,” (3) you suffered an adverse employment action, and (4) there was a causal link between your protected activity and the adverse action.

In A.B.’s case, there was no question that he worked for a public employer. Additionally, neither side disputed that he suffered an adverse employment action. In A.B.’s circumstance, the adverse action was termination. Firing is not, however, the only kind of adverse action that can be the basis of a winning case. Others can include things like a demotion, suspension, denial of a promotion, reduction in pay, reduction in hours, reduction in benefits, or transfer to a less desirable job role.

The Georgia Court of Appeals concluded that A.B. also met the criteria for items #2 and #4, as well. Protected disclosures involve any kind of complaint where you disclose fraud, waste, or abuse. A.B.’s disclosure fell into the last of these three categories.

After being disciplined, A.B. wrote a rebuttal memo divulging that, on multiple previous occasions, jail officers had used excessive force on prisoners and violated their civil rights. That memo amounted to an allegation that the Sheriff’s Office wasn’t following the required steps to deal with excessive force incidents, including compiling the required paperwork packet and turning over serious occurrences to OPS for possible referral to the District Attorney. That, according to the court, made the memo a protected disclosure.

When it comes to requirement #4 — causation — the Georgia courts have been clear that a worker must only establish that the adverse action and the protected activity were “not completely unrelated.” You can satisfy element #4 simply by proving that your employer knew about the protected disclosure and that the adverse action occurred soon after that protected activity. Because A.B. had enough proof to allow a reasonable jury to conclude that the employer knew about the protected disclosure and that the disclosure and the adverse action closely enough linked in terms of time, that meant he had a viable case that he could take to trial.

If you have been fired, demoted, suspended, or otherwise adversely treated at work because you exposed your public employer’s misconduct, you may be able to win a legal action under the whistleblower statute. Contact the Atlanta whistleblower protection attorneys at the law firm of Parks, Chesin & Walbert. Our firm has a long track record of helping whistleblowers vindicate their rights, and we’re ready to get to work for you. Contact us through this website or at 404-873-8048 to schedule a consultation regarding your situation.

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