State workers allege they were fired after pressure to break law

Group of ex-employees file a whistleblower lawsuit against the Department of Human Services
The Division of Children and Family Services is part of the Georgia Department of Human Services. JOSHUA SHARPE/

Credit: Joshua Sharpe/AJC

Credit: Joshua Sharpe/AJC

The Division of Children and Family Services is part of the Georgia Department of Human Services. JOSHUA SHARPE/

A group of former employees at the Department of Human Services say they were fired after allegedly refusing to break the law at their manager’s direction, according to a new whistleblower lawsuit filed against the state.

In a Fulton County Superior Court complaint filed in early March, the ex-employees allege that they were fired in retaliation for their complaints about improper procurement practices. The complaint alleges that Vermisha Guider, a longtime employee, was fired in August after refusing to “to commit fraud, waste, and abuse contrary to the policies, procedures and regulations” of the agency. Guider was a supervisor for DHS procurement, which includes vetting and selecting contractors for the agency, according to the complaint.

Shortly after her firing, five other members of Guider’s procurement team were also fired after complaining to DHS management that the new procedures they were asked to follow were in violation of state law.

DHS said in a statement that they have not yet officially received the lawsuit, but that staff “comply with all applicable law, rules, and policy.” The agency did not comment on whether the people listed in the complaint had been fired.

The complaint argues that these terminations violated Georgia law, which protects state employees from retaliation or firing for reporting a violation of a law or rule.

In the complaint, Guider, the veteran worker, alleges she was pressured to use non-approved vendors; to approve contracts without following protocol; and to direct her own team to violate standard operating procedures.

The group of former employees are seeking money for damages and have asked for documents, including their own employment files. A lawyer for the plaintiffs declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Procurement staff handle the agency business that’s done with outside vendors. At DHS, that includes things ranging from lawn care at division offices around the state, reviewing procurement card purchases and conducting audits, according to the complaint.

This whistleblower suit comes as recent reporting has shed light on the problems inside the Department of Human Services, which serves some of Georgia’s most vulnerable residents, including child welfare and assistance programs. An investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution examined alleged breakdowns in the state’s foster care system, prompting a federal inquiry that’s currently underway.

What’s more, a joint investigation by the AJC and Axios, an online news outlet, explored a chaotic rollout of a cash assistance program that left some Georgians without a promised $350 payment. Several Georgia state agencies are now investigating fraud associated with that program.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Axios, which are now both jointly owned by Cox Enterprises, collaborated on this story.