ALBANY, Ga. — Cassandra Smith’s whistle-blower lawsuit against the Georgia Board of Regents and Albany State University President Everette Freeman and Vice President for Academic Affairs Abiodun Ojemakinde is scheduled to begin Monday in Fulton County Superior Court.
Smith was the university’s assistant vice president for research and sponsored programs at ASU from March of 2009 until her termination in May 2011. In that position, she was responsible for securing federal funds as well as monitoring programs for compliance.
Her suit claims she was subject to retaliatory action from ASU administrators and was eventually improperly terminated after bringing to light claims of alleged federal grant mismanagement and malfeasance by the university.
The allegations revolve around the alleged misappropriation of some nearly $5 million in three federal grants and one state award.
Smith is claiming whistle-blower protection under the Georgia Code dealing with complaints from public employees as to fraud, waste and abuse in state operations. One section states: “No public employer shall make, adopt, or enforce any policy or practice preventing a public employee from disclosing a violation of or noncompliance with a law, rule, or regulation to either a supervisor or a government agency.”
Smith’s suit says the problems began to come to light in February 2010 when former ASU HCOP (Health Career Opportunity Programs) Coordinator Taryn Thomas made an initial complaint of misappropriation of funds within the program.
Smith said she brought the complaint to the attention of Freeman, Ojemakende, ASU Human Resources Director Steve Grant and Assistant to the Vice President for Fiscal Affairs Carl Threatt.
Two weeks later, Smith reported alleged misuse of funds in the NASA Science Engineering and Space Academy.
It was at this point, Smith contends, that the retaliatory actions began, and on May 12, 2011, she was asked to resign. When Smith refused, she says, she was terminated a week later. She then filed suit.
On Nov. 13, 2012, the state attorney general’s office sent Smith a letter offering her $200,000 to settle the case, dismiss her suit and release the defendants from all claims. Smith refused the offer.
She is seeking reinstatement to her position, recovery of lost wages and benefits, compensatory damages and attorney’s fees.
Calls to Smith’s attorney, Ralph Goldberg, seeking comment were not returned. ASU referred all inquiries to the state Attorney General’s Office.
Her case is Cassandra Smith v. Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia et al., Superior Court of Fulton County, Civil Action No. 2011CV207318.