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Georgia Court of Appeals Affirms that the Georgia Whistleblower Act does not Protect Employees Termi

Christopher Harris, the former Watershed Manager for the City of Atlanta's Department of Watershed Management (“DWM”), filed a complaint against the City of Atlanta (“the City”), which alleged that his termination violated the Georgia Whistleblower Act (“GWA”). Harris v. City of Atlanta, 2018 WL 1081590 (Ga. Ct. App. 2018). The trial court granted summary judgment to the City, finding Harris had failed to rebut the City's evidence that numerous employees filed complaints about Harris during an internal investigation into Harris’ actions.

In late 2011, Harris was promoted to a position which included supervising more than 200 employees. As part of his job, Harris was tasked with identifying and eliminating problems due to productivity and theft. As a result, Harris was forced to discipline multiple employees and reported most of the instances to the DWM. In December 2013, an employee submitted an email complaint to the City which alleged that Harris threatened and intimidated employees, slapped an employee, engaged in favoritism regarding hiring and job assignments, and retaliated against subordinates. DWM then began an internal investigation to determine if the employee's allegations were true. At Harris' request, the City retained outside counsel to review his reports of theft and mismanagement within the DWM. In August 2014, the City terminated Harris' employment.

On appeal, the Georgia Court of Appeals found that Harris could not show a prima facie case of retaliation because he failed to establish that the proffered reason for his termination was pretextual. However, even assuming that Harris could have established a prima facie case, the City could demonstrate numerous legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for the termination. Employee complaints indicated that Harris was threatening and abusive to subordinates, Harris showed nude photographs of an employee to other employees, and Harris was untruthful during his investigation. Therefore, Harris' arguments were “insufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the City's reasons for his termination were a pretext for retaliation,” and the Court affirmed the grant of the City's motion for summary judgment.

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