Georgia Whistleblower Suit Revived

August 22, 2005 ( - A federal appellate court has breathed new life into a whistleblower lawsuit filed by two former Fulton County, Georgia workers who claimed they were harassed into quitting their jobs.

TheUS 11th Circuit Court of Appeals threw out a lower court ruling in favor of the plaintiffs’ former boss, saying that Janice Akins and Debra Blount should get a chance to prove their allegations in a trial, according to a Fulton County Daily Report.

US District Judge Julie Carnes of the US District Court for the Northern District of Georgia had ruled against the plaintiffs. Carnes ruled that qualified immunity shielded the defendants, saying the law was not clearly established about how supervisors may treat government employees who act as whistleblowers.

Akins and Blount asserted that John Gates, former director of the Fulton County Purchasing Department, retaliated against them because in August 1998 they reported bid and contract irregularities to Fulton County Commissioner Emma Darnell.

The two women alleged that after their meeting with Darnell, other employees were ordered not to speak to them and that for 1½ months they essentially were stripped of their duties.

County officials claimed in their appeals brief that when Akins and Blount met with the county commissioner, they were less interested in exercising their First Amendment right to expose government misconduct than in airing personal complaints against their boss.

According to the appeals ruling written by Circuit Judge Charles Wilson, Akins, Blount and some of their co-workers in the purchasing department asked to meet with Darnell in 1998, Akins and Blount told Darnell about bids for six projects that violated county code or purchasing policy, according to the plaintiffs’ appeals brief. The contracts included one for ambulance service and another for a criminal-justice information system.

The latest appeals opinion in Akins v.Fulton County, No. 04-11888 is  here .