Another PCW Victory for Whistle-Blowers
In July of 2010, Fulton County Deputy County Manager Gwendolyn Warren and Maria Colon, the Fulton County Professional Standards Officer in charge of the Office of Professional Standards (“OPS”), were removed from their jobs because they exposed extensive government waste and corruption. Their report of gross fraud and waste within the Fulton County government led to a string of successful police investigations which uncovered a variety of wrong-doing, including the illegal payment of welfare benefits to employees, potential conflicts of interest, an employee trading county employment for sexual favors, and the theft of more than $180,000 of taxpayer money by County employees who used the money to operate a private company, Exquisite Events. The County Commissioners did not like the publicity, and pressured the County Manager to eliminate OPS. Eventually, the County Manager gave into the pressure, removed both Warren and Colon from their jobs, and closed OPS.
Warren and Colon filed separate lawsuits against the County under the Georgia Whistleblower Act (the “Act”.) The trial court’s denial of summary judgment was appealed by the County. The Court of Appeals effectively reversed the trial court by holding that a claim is viable under the Act only if it involves the theft of state (not just local) money. PCW, as Plaintiffs’ counsel, successfully sought a writ of certiorari to the Georgia Supreme Court, seeking reversal of the ruling which, if left to stand, would have effectively eliminated the Act as protection from retaliation for county and municipal whistleblowers. The Supreme Court granted the appeal and unanimously reversed the Court of Appeals, saving the Act from extinction. The case was remanded to the Superior Court for trial.
On December 15, 2017 after a four-day trial in Fulton County Superior Court, Parks, Chesin & Walbert partners Andrew Coffman and Travis Foust secured a jury verdict of $250,000 for Ms. Warren. The Court is still weighing plaintiff’s request for an award of $100,000 prejudgment interest and over $400,000 attorney’s fees, and expenses of litigation. After the County’s loss at Ms. Warren’s trial, it decided to avoid the risk of another embarrassing loss by agreeing to settle Ms. Colon’s claims for $325,000. The entire litigation process spanned almost eight years.