The statute of limitations for a Georgia whistleblower action does not accrue until the employee receives a definitive or final determination about the alleged retaliatory action, the Court of Appeals of Georgia held late last year. This ruling helps public employees who have been wrongfully terminated by their employers prove their cases under the Georgia Whistleblower Statute.
The plaintiff in the case was the police chief for a public institution in the University of Georgia system. The school fired the plaintiff in late 2009 after several contentious issues that began in October 2008. One of these was school staff interfering in a criminal investigation that the plaintiff thought was in violation of Georgia law. In June 2009, school administrators asked the plaintiff to resign from his post once he found a new job or face immediate termination. He initially agreed to resign but later changed his mind. On November 19th 2009, the school delivered a letter of termination to the plaintiff. The plaintiff filed suit under the Georgia Whistleblower Statute for wrongful termination on November 10, 2010.
The defendant filed a motion for summary judgment contending, in part, that the the statute of limitations barred suit. It was granted by the trial court, but the Court of Appeals reversed.
To file a whistleblower claim in Georgia, plaintiffs must establish:
- Employment by a public employer;
- That they engaged in a protected activity;
- An adverse employment action; and
- A causal connection between the activity and the adverse action.
The relevant part of the Georgia Whistleblower Statute requires the plaintiff to file suit within one year of discovering the retaliation at issue.
In this case, the defendant argued successfully to the trial court that the case was barred by the statute of limitations because the plaintiff discovered the retaliatory practice more than one year before filing the case.
The Court of Appeals disagreed, however, since the defendant had not made and communicated a final determination to the plaintiff until the termination letter was delivered to the plaintiff. After distinguishing the precedent cited by the trial court, the Court of Appeals noted that the plaintiff would not have been able to maintain a whistleblower action until he received the letter in November 2009. This is the true test for whether a cause of action had accrued. Since there was no official retaliation before the termination letter, no claim would have existed. Thus, the limitations clock did not start ticking until that moment.
Although whistleblower statutes are designed to protect public employees, private employees are also prohibited from engaging in illegal retaliation. If you were fired from your job for engaging in a protected activity, your employer may have broken the law, even if you work for a private company. For a free wrongful termination case evaluation, contact Parks, Chesin & Walbert at 404-873-8048. One of our wrongful termination attorneys can explain how your situation fits into Georgia law and inform you of your rights.