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Bondurant Mixson negotiates favorable settlement in a whistleblower lawsuit against the University of West Georgia

August 24, 2011

The University of West Georgia and the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia Admits to “Improper” Termination of Whistleblower; Agrees to Settle Lawsuit

Atlanta, GA (August, 2011) — James Naughton, former Assistant Vice President for Development and Alumni Relations at the University of West Georgia (UWG), reached a settlement with the school and Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia in his lawsuit alleging that he was wrongfully terminated in retaliation for raising concerns about improper and unethical conduct by the University.  Under the terms of the settlement, Mr. Naughton will recover all of his lost wages and attorneys’ fees and will remain in his unpaid position as Executive Director of the UWG Foundation.  On August 23, 2011, the UWG issued a press release announcing the settlement of the case and admitting that its termination of Naughton was “wrongful.”

The suit, filed by Bondurant Mixson & Elmore partner Jeffrey O. Bramlett and associates Christopher T. Giovinazzo and Tiana S. Mykkeltvedt, asserted that Naughton was fired days after informing the University of West Georgia foundation about unlawful conduct by UWG Vice President Michael Ruffner.  In early 2011, Naughton disclosed that Ruffner had entered an illegal lobbying contract on behalf of the University, and then misled the non-profit University of West Georgia Foundation’s board into tripling its administrative fees to pay for that illegal contract.  Naughton also disclosed that Ruffner had improperly hiked student activity fees and participated in violating the Georgia Open Records Act by denying requests for bank documents related to the Foundation.

The University of West Georgia fired Naughton days after he informed the University about these violations of Georgia law and University policy.  But the University’s subsequent internal audit largely confirmed that Naughton’s accusations were true.  The University’s Chief Audit Officer also expressed “concern with respect to both the timing and the facts surrounding Mr. Naughton’s termination.”

In settling the suit, UWG acknowledged that the termination of Mr. Naughton for raising these concerns was “unfortunate” and “improper,” and thanked him for his actions, saying they will serve as a “catalyst for improvement” at the school.

According to Naughton’s lawyer, Chris Giovinazzo, “This settlement vindicates Mr. Naughton and confirms that his termination was wrongful.  Mr. Naughton’s position has always been to do what was in the best interest of the school and its students.”

“He is happy that the case is over, pleased with the terms of the settlement, and looks forward to seeing in action the changes promised by UWG,” added Giovinazzo.

The case is Naughton v. Board of Regents, No. 2011CV200025.