Colon v. Fulton CountyAnnotate this Case
In consolidated cases, Maria Colon and Gwendolyn Warren filed separate lawsuits against their employer, Fulton County, pursuant to Georgia's whistleblower statute, OCGA 45-1-4. Colon and Warren alleged that they were retaliated against after they jointly disclosed to their supervisors and refused to cover up that County employees were violating laws, rules, and regulations, thereby wasting and abusing County funds and public money. The County moved to dismiss the actions based on sovereign immunity and moved for judgment on the pleadings, arguing that the retaliation claims under the statute could not proceed against the County because the complaints did not relate to a "state program or operation." The trial court denied both motions. The Court of Appeals held that the cause of action set forth in OCGA 45-1-4 unambiguously expressed a specific waiver of sovereign immunity and the extent of such waiver, even though the statute does not expressly state that sovereign immunity is waived. Furthermore, the appellate court interpreted "state programs or operations" under the facts of this case and held that where an employer qualifies as a "public employer" under the statute only because it received funds from the state, the statute provides protection from retaliation only if the employee's complaints related to a "state-funded program or operation under the jurisdiction of the public employer." In Case No. S12G1905, Colon and Warren argued that the Court of Appeals erred in construing OCGA 45-1-4 such that employees of governmental entities may maintain an action under subsection (d) of the statute only if their complaints relate to "programs or operations" that are "funded at least in part by the state." In Case Nos. S12G1911 and S12G1912, Fulton County contended that the Court of Appeals erred in concluding that OCGA 45-1-4 expressed a specific waiver of the County's sovereign immunity. Upon review, the Supreme Court affirmed the appellate court's decisions in Case Nos. S12G1911 and S12G1912, but reversed in Case No. S12G1905.