Woman Claims Firing Due to Water Concerns

     ATLANTA (CN) – A long time city government employee claims in court she was fired in retaliation for revealing widespread problems at the Atlanta Dept. of Watershed Management.
     Terry Riggins, who was working as a Class 1 Watershed Plaint Operator at the time of her termination, was one of thirteen employees let go in a mass firing by the department in August 2014.
     At the time that the workers were let go, three separate city agencies were investigating allegedly widespread mismanagement and theft within the department.
     The city then issued a written statement that said in part, “The Department of Watershed Management notified 13 employees … of the city’s intent to separate employment.”
     It continued: “Several months ago, the City initiated a series of investigations and audits of the Department’s policies and procedures. Although the investigations into theft, water quality, and management/performance are ongoing, today’s terminations were deemed necessary and appropriate.”
     In a complaint filed in Fulton County Superior Court on Nov. 12, Riggins claims she was fired for voicing her water safety concerns during a March 2014 meeting of the Atlanta City Council.
     Riggins attended the meeting with the president of the city employees’ union and several of her coworkers. After the union official recounted several complaints she’d received from her member, Riggins was given time to speak.
     She began, the complaint says, by voicing her concerns about the then-recent merger of Atlanta’s sewer and water departments, which she said led to the potential transfer of pathogens via uniforms, tools and machinery.
     According to Riggins, “employees who had previously been assigned to work on sewer system only were now being assigned to work on the clean water system.”
     In effect, she said, those who rely on the city to provide them with clean drinking water, now run the risk of being exposed to contaminants ranging from “human feces, other human waste, hospital waste, blood borne pathogens and AIDS.”
     “Plaintiff stated that the same gloves, uniforms, tools and machinery utilized by sewer employees during their work on the waste water system should not be used during their work on the clean water system because it could result in the contamination of clean water,” the complaint says.
     She further reminded the city council that “Defendant watershed is charged by the Environmental Protection Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources to ensure that clean water is free of contaminants,” it continues.
     At a utilities committee meeting later in March, city representatives allegedly promised that no employees would face retaliation for sharing concerns about Watershed.
     Atlanta opened an investigation of Watershed and interviewed Riggins in June 2014.
     On Nov. 3, 2014, the city sent Riggins a notice of termination claiming, “Your comments had no factual basis, were made in reckless disregard for the truth and demonstrate a lack of professional judgment.”
     City representatives deemed Riggins statements serious from a “homeland security and public confidence standpoint.”
     According to the complaint, Riggins never had a formal disciplinary action taken against her before this incident. The complaint also notes that she is certified as a wastewater laboratory and holds a Class 3 wastewater operator license.
     “It is evident that Defendant City of Atlanta terminated Plaintiff because her statements led to the exposure of potentially hazardous and illegal practices,” the complaint says.
     Riggins seeks $3 million in compensatory damages, punitive damages, back pay, front pay and benefits of a claim of retaliation under the Georgia Whistleblower Act.
     She is represented by Samantha Holloway of The Holloway Firm in Atlanta.
     The city of Atlanta Legal Department did not immediately respond to emails from Courthouse News seeking comment.

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