In an editorial today, the Savannah Morning News is calling on Georgia state legislators to expand the state’s whistleblower law to protect the employees of cities and counties. The paper cites the case of Gwen Warren and Maria Colon. Ms. Warren was the deputy county manager. She supervised Ms. Colon who investigated complaints of waste and abuse in county programs. Ms. Colon uncovered evidence that four county employees embezzled $180,000 for their party planning business. The county rewarded her by slashing her pay $45,000. The county also fired Ms. Warren. When Ms. Colon and Ms. Warren sued, the county claimed that it is protected by the doctrine of sovereign immunity and that the state’s whistleblower protection law applies only to state employees, not city or county employees. The Savannah Morning News "Taxpayers need people who are looking out for precious tax dollars to remain employed. They should be protected for blowing whistles, not punished," the paper says. "Lawmakers must amend the Georgia Whistleblower Act to extend protection to the employees of city and county governments who cry foul, which will better prevent taxpayers from being fleeced."
With the help of my friend, attorney Janet Hill of Athens, Georgia, I learned that Georgia’s law on "fraud, waste and abuse in state programs" DOES cover city and county employees. Since a 2007 amendment, O.C.G.A. 45-1-4(a)(1) defines “Government agency” as "any agency of federal, state, or local government charged with the enforcement of laws, rules, or regulations."
Here’s an idea, though. How about expanding the law to protect everyone? Georgia is one of the few states where courts will not recognize any exceptions to "employment-at-will" (where bosses can fire workers for any reason, or no reason at all, as long as it is not for an illegal reason), and there is no whistleblower protection, except for state employees. You can see how your state shapes up with the interactive state map of the National Whistleblowers Center.