Federal Court Permits Ex-Fire Chief’s Whistleblower Claims to Move Forward against GA City

A federal district court judge will allow a former fire chief to pursue wrongful termination claims against a Georgia city. The claims allege that the city violated the former employee’s First Amendment rights and state whistleblower laws. The judge dismissed various other claims pursuant to the city’s motion to dismiss. The case is Owens v. Propes et al., case number 3:21-cv-00084, U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Georgia. 

Former fire chief William Owens filed suit against the city of Monroe, Georgia, the police chief, and the city administrator after they terminated his employment. Owens claimed that the police chief and city administrator inappropriately accessed the Apple Watch of a person referred to only as K.I., with whom Owens had an intimate relationship. 

Owens later amended his complaint to allege that his firing resulted from retaliation for speaking out in a public forum on a city program called “Shop with a Hero.” City employees managed a portion of the program, and Owens stated that a nonprofit organization would better manage the program due to concerns about the misappropriation of funds. 

On the city’s motion to dismiss, the judge dismissed the claims related to city officials accessing the information on K.I.’s Apple Watch, finding that Owens had no expectation of privacy in a device owned by a third party. The judge allowed the retaliation claims to move forward based on alleged violations of Owens’ First Amendment rights and state whistleblower laws.

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