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Albers v. Georgia Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia

Court of Appeals of Georgia

November 21, 2014

ALBERS
v.
GEORGIA BOARD OF REGENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY SYSTEM OF GEORGIA et al

Whistleblower. Fulton Superior Court. Before Judge Schwall.

Judgment reversed.

Billips & Benjamin, Matthew C. Billips, for appellant.

Samuel S. Olens, Attorney General, Shelley S. Seinberg, Assistant Attorney General, for appellees.

PHIPPS, Chief Judge. Barnes, P. J., and McFadden, J., concur. Ray, J., concurs in Division 1 and concurs in judgment only as to Division 2. Andrews, P. J., Ellington, P. J., and McMillian, J., dissent. ELLINGTON, Presiding Judge, dissenting.

OPINION

Page 521

Phipps, Chief Judge.

On November 19, 2009, Christopher Albers was given written notice that he would be terminated from his position as chief of police at Georgia Perimeter College (" GPC" ). Asserting a wrongful termination claim under the Georgia Whistleblower Statute,[1] Albers sued the Georgia Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia, GPC, and GPC's president. The defendants moved for summary judgment, arguing that the facts did not support a whistleblower [330 Ga.App. 59] claim and that the applicable statute of limitation barred the action. The trial court granted the motion, and Albers appeals. For reasons that follow, we reverse.

Summary judgment is appropriate when no genuine issues of material fact remain and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.[2] We review the grant of summary judgment de novo, construing the evidence and all reasonable conclusions and inferences drawn from it in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.[3]

So viewed, the record shows that Albers began working for GPC as chief of police in March 2005. In this role, he served as chief executive of GPC's department of public safety, overseeing security services, police procedure, parking control, homeland security, and other security matters. According to Albers, his supervisor, Executive Vice President Ronald Carruth, had never criticized his performance prior to November 2008. That changed, however, following an incident in late October of that year.

On October 28, 2008, a GPC student reported to the public safety department that his laptop was missing from a classroom. GPC officers investigated, concluded that another student had taken the computer, and obtained a warrant for her arrest. In the meantime, the suspect's mother contacted the school, complaining about how her daughter had been treated by GPC officers.

Page 522

After this complaint, several college administrators, including the dean of student services and director of human resources (" HR" ), instructed Albers to speak with the district attorney about having the charges against the student reduced or dropped. Albers refused, telling Carruth: " [I]t would be inappropriate and unethical for me to try and influence the DA in any way as to how he would handle this case."

At some point, the HR director commenced her own investigation into the laptop incident. Albers and his deputy chief objected to the HR inquiry, asserting that it interfered with their ongoing criminal investigation and obstructed justice. Albers discussed the concurrent HR investigation with an assistant district attorney, who indicated that HR's inquiry was improper. Following this conversation, Albers informed Carruth that GPC should not attempt to influence the outcome of the criminal prosecution, and he continued to object to the administration's interference in the police investigation.

[330 Ga.App. 60] The record further shows that Albers's interference objections were not limited to the laptop incident. According to Albers, the administration " repeatedly insert[ed] itself improperly into criminal investigations." On one occasion, for example, Anthony Tricoli, the president of GPC, told Albers how to proceed with a criminal investigation involving a student and instructed him to work directly with the dean of student services. When Albers objected that Tricoli had overstepped his bounds and was interfering with a police inquiry, Tricoli responded, " I'm the President."

By the spring of 2009, the relationship between the college administration and the public safety department " was extremely strained," and Albers believed that his job was in jeopardy. According to Albers, Carruth was undermining his authority, and the HR director was overtly hostile toward him. Also during this period, an audit revealed that Albers had used a GPC warehouse to receive and store large amounts of grain that he needed for his " home brewers" beer-making club. Although GPC's director of logistical services had given Albers permission to use the ...


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