Legare, cheryl.JPG

Cheryl Legare

CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misidentified the judge handing down Friday's decision as Chief Judge Jackson Harris. Judge Jack Partain issued the order.

A wrongful termination suit against the city of Canton will proceed, after a Cherokee County Superior Court judge on Friday denied the city’s motion to dismiss the case.

The suit, filed by former Canton City Clerk Susan Stanton in April, alleges that she was terminated after she voiced opposition to a job description that she felt would violate ethics laws. The complaint charges the city with terminating her in violation of the Georgia Whistleblower Act.

A hearing whether to grant the city’s motion for summary judgment – to dismiss the case – took place in Canton on Wednesday, and Judge Jack Partain issued his order Friday afternoon. Partain's order cites Stanton’s multiple attempts to confirm whether the job description violated ethics laws as proof that she had reason to believe that it did so, and reason that the case should not be dismissed.

“Viewing the facts in the light most favorable to nonmoving party, Ms. Stanton’s copious inquiries into whether her new job description was in violation of Georgia ethics rules raises a genuine issue of material fact and that the plaintiff is not protected by the Georgia Whistleblower Act as a matter of law. Accordingly, (the city of Canton’s) motion for summary judgement is denied,” the court documents read.

Cheryl Legare, the attorney representing Stanton in the suit, said Friday that Partain issued the right decision extremely quickly.

“I think what he decided was exactly what I said, which is whether or not Ms. Stanton’s concerns were reasonable is a question for the jury,” Legare said. “It was the right result. We’re very pleased, and I was extremely pleased at the speed it was denied. I’m used to things taking substantially longer than that.”

Legare said there will likely be a period of discovery – gathering of additional information and evidence – before the case could proceed to trial. But, she said, both sides already have the available documents relevant to the case. She said she is confident, based on that evidence and the time it took for Partain to issue the order, that a period of discovery would not change the path to a jury trial.

“It easily could go straight to trial, but I don’t know that it will. At least in theory, we could have discovery for a couple of months, and it could get extended longer,” she said.

Phillip Friduss, the attorney representing the city in the case, said Friday he and the city are disappointed in the result, but the case is “not now ending, it is actually just now starting.”

“The order does not mean Ms. Stanton wins. To the contrary, all it means is that the case is not going to be thrown out at this time. For the purpose of this particular type of motion, the judge was required to accept all evidence in the light most favorable to Ms. Stanton,” Friduss said in a written statement. “What happens now is that the city weighs the several choices it has with respect to the ruling. Regardless of what form that direction takes, I must reiterate the real case has just now begun. We haven’t even taken the first deposition yet. In the end, the truth will come out, and the city will prevail.”

If a period of discovery occurs in the case, it will allow both parties to obtain additional evidence from either side, including but not limited to questioning, request for production of documents and sworn, out-of-court oral testimonies (depositions).

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