In the consolidated cases of Warren v. Fulton County and Colon v. Fulton County, the Georgia Supreme Court issued an order that strengthens our state’s whistleblower statute, by clarifying whether employees of local and county governments have the same protections afforded to state employees.
The Georgia Court of Appeals had previously held that the whistleblower law–O.C.G.A. 45-1-4, only applied to employees of “local governments,” if suspected fraud, waste, or abuse related to “state programs and operations.” The Supreme Court has reversed, finding that the statute protects all public employees who complain of fraud, waste, abuse, or violations of law, by a local government, and not only those who complain of abuse with respect to state funds. The court held, in a footnote:
Indeed, the straightforward construction of the statute outlined above makes perfect sense, as a public employee might not even know whether state money is involved at the time that he or she discovers and reports a violation of the rules to his or her supervisor. Under OCGA § 45-1-4, regardless of whether a public employee has knowledge of the extent to which state funds may or may not be involved in a reported violation of rules or regulations, the public employee would still be protected from retaliation after making the disclosure. This makes sense, as OCGA § 45-1-4 would then operate such that a public employee would always be protected from retaliation when disclosing improper conduct, rather than offering protection for some public employees who disclose improper conduct (i.e. those reporting rule violations relating to state funded operations) and leaving others who disclose improper conduct without such protection (i.e. those reporting rule violations that do not relate to state funded operations).
The Warren and Colon matters related to two former Fulton County employees who had been tasked to investigate internal complaints of fraud, waste, and abuse within Fulton County government. Shortly after they uncovered that a group of finance employees had been stealing county money to fund a private business, they were terminated without explanation.
James Radford and Lee Parks led the initial litigation of the case.