COWARD et al.
MCG HEALTH, INC.
BARNES, P. J., MILLER, P. J., and MCMILLIAN, J.
Miller, Presiding Judge.
Coward and Mary Bargeron (collectively
"Plaintiffs") sued MCG Health, Inc., alleging that
MCG Health terminated their employment in violation of
Georgia's Whistleblower Statute, OCGA § 45-1-4. The
trial court granted summary judgment to MCG Health, and
Plaintiffs now appeal, contending, inter alia, that they each
established a prima facie case of retaliation under OCGA
§ 45-1-4; that MCG Health's true reasons for
terminating their employment were discriminatory; and that
the reasons articulated by MCG Health for their termination
were pretextual. After a thorough review of the record, we
conclude that the Plaintiffs failed to show this Court that
their complaints triggered the protections afforded by the
Georgia Whistleblower Statute. Therefore, neither Coward nor
Bargeron established that she engaged in a protected activity
for purposes of establishing a prima facie case under OCGA
§ 45-1-4, and we must affirm the grant of summary
judgment to MCG Health.
Summary judgment is proper when there is no genuine issue of
material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a
matter of law. A de novo standard of review applies to an
appeal from a grant of summary judgment, and we view the
evidence, and all reasonable conclusions and inferences drawn
from it, in the light most favorable to the nonmovant.
(Citation and footnote omitted.) Caldon v. Bd. of Regents
of the Univ. System of Ga., 311 Ga.App. 155 (715 S.E.2d
487) (2011); see also Tuohy v. City of Atlanta, 331
Ga.App. 846 (771 S.E.2d 501) (2015).
viewed, the record shows that Plaintiffs are registered
nurses. Coward began working for MCG Health in 2001 and was
trained as a charge nurse. Bargeron began working for MCG Health
in 2004 as a Senior Staff R.N. and also worked as a charge
nurse. Initially, Plaintiffs were assigned to the child and
adolescent psychiatric unit, and they occasionally worked in
the adult psychiatric unit (hereinafter the "Adult
August 2009, Plaintiffs were reassigned to work in the Adult
Unit on a regular basis. On September 11, 2009, Coward was
assigned to work as the charge nurse for the 3:00 p. m. to
11:00 p. m. shift in the Adult Unit. Although Coward had been
the charge nurse in the Adult Unit before, including the
prior day, she asked another nurse to take her place as
charge nurse for that shift. Coward did not report the change
in assignments to any manager at MCG Health or to the unit
clerk who provided administrative support for the Adult Unit.
This was the first time Coward had changed her charge nurse
assignment since her transfer to the Adult Unit.
evening of September 15, 2009, Coward was working in the
Adult Unit when a patient in that ward attempted suicide.
Coward's supervisor came in that night and took
statements from the staff, including Coward. Coward told her
supervisor that she believed that the attempted suicide
resulted from short-staffing in the Adult Unit. One week
later, MCG Health terminated Coward's employment for
refusing to perform her assigned duties as charge nurse on
September 11, 2009.
31, 2010, Bargeron was assigned to work as the charge nurse
in the Adult Unit. The unit was busy, and there was no unit
clerk when Bargeron arrived for her shift at 3:00 p. m.
Bargeron twice called her manager to report that the unit was
understaffed, and Bargeron's manager told her both times
to obtain the necessary official status report from the prior
shift's charge nurse so as to transition between the two
shifts. During the second phone call, Bargeron informed her
manager that she had not obtained a status report from the
prior shift's charge nurse,  and Bargeron refused to go
forward with her staffing assignment. The supervisor
instructed Bargeron to go home, and, a few days later, MCG
Health terminated Bargeron's employment for refusing her
May 31 assigned shift.
subsequently filed suit against MCG Health, alleging that it
retaliated against them for speaking out about the
understaffing and terminated their employment in violation of
OCGA § 45-1-4 (hereinafter the "Whistleblower
Statute"). Following discovery in this case, MCG
Health moved for summary judgment, arguing that Plaintiffs
failed to establish a prima facie case of retaliation. MCG
Health further argued that it had legitimate,
non-discriminatory reasons for terminating Plaintiffs'
employment and that Plaintiffs could not show that the
reasons for their termination were pretexual. The trial court
granted summary judgment to MCG Health, and this appeal
appeal, Plaintiffs contend that the trial court erred in
granting summary judgment to MCG Health. We disagree.
The Whistleblower Statute, OCGA § 45-1-4,
prohibits public employers from (1) retaliating against a
public employee for disclosing a violation of or
noncompliance with a law, rule, or regulation to either a
supervisor or a government agency; or (2) retaliating against
a public employee for objecting to, or refusing to
participate in, any activity, policy, or practice of the
public employer that the public employee has reasonable cause
to believe is in violation of or noncompliance with a law,
rule, or regulation.
(Punctuation and footnotes omitted.) Caldon, supra,
311 Ga.App. at 158. Our appellate courts have ...