Bill aims to shield workplace harassment whistleblowers from retaliation

Lawrenceville Police Captain Ryan Morgan (L) seen here as the department  celebrated his retirement in late December. He's pictured with Major Myron Walker R) , the agency's assistant chief. Morgan informed the city of his decision to retire the night before he was set to be interviewed by an independent investigator looking into sexual harassment within the agency.

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Lawrenceville Police Captain Ryan Morgan (L) seen here as the department celebrated his retirement in late December. He's pictured with Major Myron Walker R) , the agency's assistant chief. Morgan informed the city of his decision to retire the night before he was set to be interviewed by an independent investigator looking into sexual harassment within the agency.

Credit: Facebook

Georgia Democratic lawmakers are pushing for legislation they believe would help protect employees who have reported workplace harassment from retaliation at the hands of their employers.

House Bill 1389, titled the “Georgia Safe Workplaces Act,” was filed Thursday morning by Rep. Teri Anulewicz, D-Cobb County. The bill, which is co-sponsored by Democrat Bee Nguyen, is similar to House Bill 549 proposed under the same working title. If passed, the legislation would provide legal protections for whistleblowers who fear or are facing retaliation in the workplace.

The bill would cement into the Georgia code the whistleblower’s right to file a lawsuit against their employer. Anulewicz said that would create a more navigable path for a complainant to file litigation in cases of harassment and retaliation.

“The way that the law works, if ‘x’ happens to you, then you can do ‘y,’ but there are a lot of variations that can impact that process of litigation,” Anulewicz said. “When you have something codified in Georgia code, it brings uniformity to the process.”

The proposed legislation comes just a few weeks after a Gwinnett County police department found itself embroiled in a sexual harassment scandal that cost its chief and a member of its command staff their jobs. An internal investigation of the Lawrenceville Police Department revealed a climate of sexual harassment and hostility that had persisted for years.

Lawrenceville police Chief Timothy Wallis resigned shortly after the investigative report was made public last month, and Capt. Ryan Morgan announced his retirement in December as the investigation began centering on him. The 33-page report concluded both men sexually harassed the female officer who filed the complaint.

Anulewicz said media reports centering around the Lawrenceville Police Department encouraged her and fellow lawmakers to move more quickly in bringing forth the legislation.

“Part of why I was so eager to move forward with (this legislation) was reading the accounts of the female officers,” she said.

The female officer who filed the harassment complaint told an investigator that a “good ol’ boy” network ran deep in the male-dominated department, and when women complained about harassment or other issues they were seen as troublemakers.

The report said when the officer voiced concerns about Capt. Morgan’s treatment of her to the chief and her supervisor, they did little to help her. Instead, all three men made “negative comments about [the female officer] and her motivations for bringing the complaint,” according to the report.

While whistleblower protection laws are in place to cover government employees, Anulewicz said Georgia code does not provide a clear “right of action” for others who have been retaliated against for filing harassment complaints.

Rep. Chuck Efstration, a Republican who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, said workplace harassment and retaliation are issues that no employee should have to deal with, and he appreciates that his colleagues are working to provide employees with additional layers of protection.

However, he added that “extensive consideration” needs to be given to the potential impact of legislation proposing a cause for action.