Plaintiffs seeking protection under the anti-retaliation provisions of the Georgia Whistleblowers Act ("GWA") will applaud the Georgia Court of Appeals' recent decision in West v City of Albany wherein it removed a fatal procedural obstacle.
In this case, Ms. West claimed damages, attorney fees and litigation costs against the City for its decision to terminate her employment when she reported what was deemed to be financial irregularities in the City's utility department. The City responded with a motion of dismiss the claim due to West's failure to provide pre-litigation notice (known in latin as "ante litem notice") six (6) months prior to filing her claim in Court and after the discovery of the adverse employment decision, as is required by the municipal ante litem notice statute. The Court reviewed the specific text of the GWA and concluded mainly that retaliation under the GWA is defined as an intentional act while the municipal ante litem notice statute specifically pertains to negligent acts; therefore, the six (6) month notice period does NOT apply to claims made pursuant to the GWA.
The GWA is a powerful statute in that it creates a wrongful termination cause of action, even in the employment "at-will" state of Georgia, it waives sovereign immunity for municipalities such as the City in this case and, as the Court concluded: it establises a statute of limitations of up to three (3) years for a negligence claim that would otherwise provide only one (1) year. The Court would not have these powers truncated by ante litem requirements.
This decision, issued on March 6, 2017, highlights once again the importance of timely claims. If you have a legal issue, it probably has timeliness considerations in tow; therefore, speak to legal counsel sooner rather than later in order to preserve your rights!