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Friday, June 14, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Retaliation Claims Picked Up by High Court

WASHINGTON (CN) - The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to determine whether a community college official retaliated against an employee who blew the whistle on public corruption.

The Central Alabama Community College had been undergoing substantial budget cuts when it laid off 29 employees with fewer than three years of service in 2009.

Though the school's president, Steve Franks, rescinded nearly all of those terminations, Edward Lane was one of only two employees who was kept out.

Lane claimed that his work rooting out misspent funds in the school cost him his job and sued Franks for violating his First Amendment rights.

Indeed, Lane's whistle-blowing had been a source of headlines in Alabama since the school hired him as probationary director of Central Alabama Community College's Community Intensive Training for Youth program in 2006.

While looking over the at-risk-youth program's finances, Lane learned that then-state representative Suzanne Schmitz was listed on the group's payroll but was not reporting for work and had not otherwise performed tangible work for the program.

Lane directed Schmitz to report to work and fired her when she refused.

Court records show that Schmitz sued to get her job back and told one of Lane's CITY employees that she had a special message for Lane.

If Lane asked the Alabama Legislature for money, she allegedly planned to tell him, "you're fired."

Schmitz's firing was the least of her problems, however, as the FBI contacted Lane for its investigation of her.

Pursuant to a subpoena, Lane testified before a grand jury and at Schmitz's 2008 federal criminal trial for mail fraud and fraud involving a program receiving federal funds.

He said Schmitz claimed to have gotten the job with his program through her connections with the executive secretary of the Alabama Education Association.

Schmitz's first case ended in a mistrial but she was convicted in 2009 with yet another bout of testimony from Lane. Her 30-month sentence concluded in 2012.

Meanwhile a federal judge granted Franks summary judgment in Lane's suit, and a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit affirmed this past July, finding no evidence of retaliation.

Per its custom, the Supreme Court did not comment on its decision to grant Lane a writ of certiorari Friday.

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