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Court of Appeals rules in Albany State favor in Smith whistle-blower law suit

Appeals court rules as an at will employee, Cassandra Smith was not entitled to special protection from termination at Albany State University

ATLANTA — The Georgia Court of Appeals has ruled against former Albany State University employee Cassandra Smith in her whistle-blower lawsuit against the university.

The court’s ruling, written by Judge Christopher McFadden and handed down late Thursday afternoon, found that as an “at-will” employee serving at the pleasure of then-president Everette Freeman, Smith could be “discharged with or without cause.”

Smith was the university’s assistant vice president for research and sponsored programs at ASU from March 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, filed within weeks of her termination, claimed 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 revolved around the alleged misappropriation of some nearly $5 million in three federal grants and one state award.

Smith had claimed whistle-blower protection under the Georgia Code dealing with complaints from public employees as to fraud, waste and abuse in state operations.

“Albany State University is extremely pleased with the Court of Appeals’ decision,” ASU Chief of Staff and Legal Counsel Nyota Tucker said. “They found (Smith’s) claims without merit and we are pleased with the outcome.”

In November 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.

Smith now has 10 days to ask the Court of Appeals to reconsider, or she can appeal to the State Supreme Court. The court, however, may or may not elect to hear the case.