Nov. 18, 2013 — Two Fulton County whistleblowers may proceed with legal claims that they lost their jobs in retaliation for reporting misuse of taxpayers’ funds, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled today. The decision strengthens the state’s whistleblower law by holding that the law protects all public employees, not just those who work in state-funded programs, and dismissing Fulton County’s defense of sovereign immunity.
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Two Fulton County employees who lost their jobs are not whistleblowers, attorneys for the county say, but even if they were, they can’t sue the county. The workers say they were caught up in a backlash against a politically sensitive probe of the misuse of county funds. Now the county contends it is immune from claims under Georgia’s whistleblower law — an argument that could undermine such suits across the state.
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Two whistleblowers are preparing to sue Fulton County Manager Zachary Williams, claiming he eliminated their jobs because they reported waste and fraud in county government. The potential plaintiffs told Williams that more than $150,000 in county funds — disguised as payments for homeless shelter supplies — had bought lavish linens, Chiavari wedding chairs and other supplies for an employee’s private event-planning business, their attorney said.
A whistleblower who accused state ethics lawyers of misconduct was herself fired over allegations of fraud and dishonesty. Jennifer L. Ward, budget and HR administrator for the State Ethics Commission, was dismissed in November for allegedly failing to drop an ex-employee from the payroll and stating that she fabricated salary figures to help her old boss get a pay raise. Ward denies wrongdoing and claims her new boss canned her for complaining to others about his private law practice.
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